While cloned websites are nothing new in Uzbekistan
, the latest attempt to set up a local social network in the Central Asian country pulls out all the stops. Youface.uz
's resemblance to Facebook is hard to overlook, and it doesn't stop with the welcome page.
The site's founder, who gave his name as Ayub Abdulloh in an Internet chat with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
, admits that at "first glance" his new website may look like the world's biggest social-networking site, but this is just to help it gather new members, and as his site gets more users, "this will be changed."
Launched on May 21, Youface has just 300 members so far (no word on how many of them are New York comedians
). But Abdulloh, who gives his age as 22 and didn't want to give an interview, has high hopes for his website.
Abdulloh says that Youface is intended to "develop the patriotic spirit in our youth." He also says the network is intended to promote the Internet among young Uzbeks and the "concept of finding information on the Internet."
However, when RFE/RL's Uzbek Service attempted to post material from its website
, it was promptly deleted.
While Uzbekistan blocks the websites of many foreign and independent news sources (the BBC, RFE/RL's Uzbek site, among many), for the most part social networks are permitted, with the exceptions of the Russian blogging platform LiveJournal and Wikipedia, of all things.
In fact, the state telecom monopoly even makes access to the Russian-based social network Odnoklassniki free for mobile-phone users. Odnoklassniki recently added Uzbek as its second available language for translation after Ukrainian.
But after the role social media played in the Arab Spring, as well as in organizing opposition protests in Belarus and Russia, "social media" has become something of a dirty word in the Uzbek state media. Many wonder if the day isn't coming
when foreign social networks will be blocked and local sites might be the only option for Uzbekistan's Internet users, whose numbers have surged in recent years
to almost 8 million out of a population of 28 million.
It's likely no coincidence that Youface's Abdulloh makes pains to promote his new social network as "clean" in addition to "patriotic." It may not be Iran or China just yet, but betting on a more restricted future for Internet users in Uzbekistan is hardly a risky undertaking.
-- Dan Wisniewski