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There's an interesting post on neweurasia.net by Annasoltan about Turkmenistan banning a popular social-networking site, agent.mail.ru.

There’s uproar among the youth in Turkmenistan today after the government decided to ban the popular social networking site, agent.mail.ru. Currently, it’s inaccessible via both TM Cell and MTS (about whom I’ve reported before.) The website had eventually experienced a small surge in Turkmen users, especially young men and women who used it to get to know each other.

It’s an open secret that one of the main purposes of agent.mail.ru is dating. The site certainly facilitates meeting potential partners: just type in the city, gender, and age in the search engine, and within only a few seconds, voila! Lovely, smiling faces appear. You can even find young women in bikini shots or Odalisque poses - some as young as 16! Another big advantage is the availability of chat rooms, which are easy even for the less techno-savvy to use, and is cheaper in the long run than mobile phones.

Under President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Turkmenistan has become the land of gestures. A statue is dismantled. The circus is allowed back in town. Internet for everyone, as long as you can afford the high prices and are in one of the few places that offers it. But substantively, Berdymukhammedov has not really differentiated himself from his more colorful predecessor, Turkmenbashi.

Perhaps the worrying part is here:

While the ban has been deplored by its users, it’s also been hailed by some older Turkmens (and non-users) as a welcome move. They have legitimate fears about the spread of child pornography and internet addiction. These are real problems, and exactly because the internet does not regulate itself, it’s reasonable that government must therefore do the regulation. They also see something else - a threat to traditions.

We're going to see this more and more. Repressive governments using arguments about tradition (culture X isn't compatible with the Internet) or populist crusades against pornography, to justify their Internet crackdowns.

According to Annasoltan's post, while it doesn't look like this ban was overtly because of political reasons, it is following a pattern: Facebook and YouTube have already been banned in Turkmenistan. Even though the site might have just been used for dating, it was a public space the government didn't control -- and they don't like that. Although at least Annasoltan does say that already young Turkmens are turning to other social-networking sites.

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