Google+ was filtered in Iran earlier this week, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported. The move was not unexpected. Facebook is also filtered in Iran, but the speed with which authorities blocked Google+, which was unveiled only in late June, came as a bit of a surprise to some observers.
The move could signal Iran’s growing concern over social networking sites, which are used by Iranian activists to discuss sensitive political topics and spread news about the ongoing crackdown and the plight of political prisoners.
The Islamic republic was not only quick in blocking Google+; it also quickly accused the social network of being a spying tool for the United States.
Facebook and Twitter have faced the same accusations, although Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has a Twitter account that is quite active.
Last year, Iran’s state-controlled television described Facebook and Twitter as “Iran’s hidden enemies" and said Western Intelligence services are using them to recruit new members and gather data on individuals.
An official with Iran’s Culture Ministry said on July 13 that Google+ is used by the United States for spying purposes and represents a "cultural invasion."
Ruhollah Momen Nasab, a senior official at the digital media office of Iran’s Culture Ministry, said in a recent interview with "Nedaye Enghelab" that the U.S. created Google+ to compensate for the "sharp drop" in membership in Facebook. He added that Google+ is a replacement for Google’s "failed Realtime project."
“As you remember, Google launched hastily its Realtime service last year on February 14 to disrupt social security in Iran. It was quickly neutralized by the praiseworthy vigilance of officials in charge,” Momen Nasab said.
He also seemed to suggest that the Central Intelligence Agency uses Google+ to gather data on individuals.
When asked whether Google+ is an espionage center, he said the CIA is using data from individuals for "open spying" in order to push forward its goals.
The Iranian official accused Google+ of violating individual and social rights by "stealing" information and photographs from people’s computers and cellphones.
He said Iranian web users should tell their friends and colleagues about the "dangers" of using social media networks.
Despite the warning, a number of Iranians have joined Google+, with some users already boasting more than 2,000 followers.
Iran is likely not only to filter Google+ but also to try to monitor the activities of some individuals, as it appears to do on Facebook.
In recent months, several Iranians have reportedly been sentenced to prison over their postings and activities on Facebook.
An adviser to Iran’s state prosecutor, Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, who is the secretary of the Working Group to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content, said last week that whether using Facebook is a crime or not depends on the activities of individuals on the social networking site. He said posting content that is "immoral," "violates religious sanctities," or is against the "security and calm" in society is considered a crime.
He also said that no decision has been made to remove the filter on Facebook; the issue, he said, is not even on the agenda.
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