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Iran Warns of Facebook's Soft Power

A computer engineer checks equipment at an internet service provider in Tehran in February 2011.
A computer engineer checks equipment at an internet service provider in Tehran in February 2011.
An Iranian official warned this week that the expansion of social-media networks is harming society and called the country's 17 million Facebook users a threat to the country's Islamic values.

Mehdi Jafari, who heads the technology and intelligence section of the Pupil's Basij militia -- which runs programs for 12-17 years olds -- told a gathering of teachers in the northern town of Amol on October 3 that the effects of the blogosphere on Iranian society can no longer be ignored.

Some 300,000 Persian websites are engaged in activities aimed at undermining the national and religious beliefs of Iranians, he said.

His comments reflect Iran's repressive media environment, where bloggers, among others, are subjected to arrest and harassment. The regime is always looking for ways to curb access to social-networking websites.

Characterizing the blogosphere as one of the "most effective elements of soft war" against Iran, Jafari said arrogant and imperial powers (meaning the United States) are using social-media sites to push their own values and agendas.

"The blogosphere is so advanced and has so many adherents that Facebook alone has 800 million members," Jafari said, warning the teachers that because the exchange of information over social networks cannot be monitored or controlled, sites like Facebook "counteract religious values in Iran."

He also cautioned that "computer games...and films are among the products that are produced [online] with specific political and cultural aims for influencing our young people."

Amin Sabeti, an information-technology expert and a blogger, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Facebook never said how many Iranian users it has, but after the disputed 2009 presidential election, use of the site soared as people vented their frustration with the regime.

As Internet use in Iran has risen over the last decade, the clerical regime has tried to keep pace by blocking Persian and non-Persian sites from outside the country.The latest "Enemies of the Internet" list from the press-freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders gives Iran one of the world's worst scores for Internet freedom.

In August, Interior Minister Mohammad Mostafa Mohammad Najjar characterized satellites, Facebook, and online instant messaging as elements of the "soft war" against Iran. He told the parliament's Committee for Social Affairs, "The West is using all its power against the Islamic republic by using hundreds of satellite networks in Persian and cyberspace, [as well as] Facebook and Twitter, and the propagation of Satanism."

-- Hossein Aryan, with contributions from Babak Ghafooriazar of RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

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