Update, May 29, 2014: According to the official Iranian state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the attorney general of Fars province now disputes claims that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to court. On May 28, Ali Alghasi-Mehr told IRNA that the previous report—from partially state-sponsored Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA)—was “completely false.” Part of the article belowwas based on this information.
Sensing the inevitable social and political collapse that comes with sharing photos of fancy dinners and feline friends, an Iranian judge has reportedly ordered Instagram and WhatsApp to be blocked in Iran. But that’s not all: According to Ruhollah Momen-Nasab, an Iranian Internet official, the conservative judge in Iran’s Fars province has also called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify in court about alleged violations of users’ privacy rights. The request struck a decidedly anti-Semitic tone, reportedly referring to Zuckerberg as the “Zionist director of the company of Facebook.” (Business card, anyone?)
Iran has already implemented bans on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but many (if not most) Internet users are able to stay active in social media through proxy servers and other firewall bypassing technologies. Even high-level officials maintain accounts on Twitter, and the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—Iran’s supreme leader—regularly updates social media profiles. He recently chimed in on the #YesAllWomen campaign.
The most recent ruling seems to highlight the rift between moderate Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and more conservative hardliners in rural regions. Rouhani, who many have hailed as a grand reformer (Slate’s Ben Cohen has more on why this isn’t true), said in a statement last week: “We ought to see (the Internet) as an opportunity. We must recognize our citizens’ right to connect to the World Wide Web,” questioning, “Why are we so shaky? Why have we cowered in a corner, grabbing onto a shield and a wooden sword, lest we take a bullet in this culture war?” Rouhani also voiced support for seven Iranian citizens detained for creating a music video for Pharrell’s ubiquitous pop song “Happy.” Rouhani quickly took to Twitter to show his concern for the jailed citizens:
WhatsApp was blocked by a different court earlier this month, but Rouhani intervened, ordering a halt to the ban. Rouhani heads Iran’s Supreme Council of Virtual Spaces, established in 2012 to deal with such issues. (It also happens to sound like something from World of Warcraft.) While it might appear that Rouhani sees the light when it comes to the Internet, allowing citizen access to social media simultaneously allows government surveillance of users.
Either way, it isn’t stopping conservative courts from extending an anti-Semitic welcome to Facebook’s chief. Iranian officials would likely have more success calling Facebook’s new privacy dinosaur to the stand instead. Zuckasaurus—yes, the adorable blue dino-mascot has a nickname—was unveiled last month to help inform users about their privacy settings. However, it is unclear whether the cartoon mascot would be allowed to testify in Iran—and whether the dinosaur is Jewish.