For some time now, along with the imposition of restrictions on opposition groups of the Islamic Republic of Iran by Instagram, we have been witnessing the removal of videos related to the Iranian anti-government protests on Instagram. Restrictions on dissidents and Instagram censoring videos of popular Iranian protests have sparked speculation about the Islamic Republic’s influence on Instagram.
Instagram is a necessity for Iranian users since it is the only social media that is not blocked by the government in the country. Other platforms such as Telegram, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are all blocked for Iranian users, making Instagram the second most used and a crucial app after WhatsApp in Iran.
In response to the recent rise in these presumably targeted censorships, three human rights groups called on Meta, the owner of the social networks Instagram and Facebook, to review its Persian-language content review procedures for Iran.
Digital civil rights group Access Now, London-based rights organization Article 19, and New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran met with a senior official from Meta on Thursday to convey their concerns over Instagram censoring content by Iranian dissidents and democracy advocates.
The question that has recently arisen is whether the Islamic Republic of Iran has really infiltrated Instagram? BBC’s sources alleged that pro-regime employees of the German branch of Telus International, a Canadian contractor, which provides content moderation to Instagram with over 400 Iranian employees for reviewing Persian-language content, are responsible for restricting anti-government content of Iranian users.
The imposed restrictions on figures from the Islamic Republic’s opposition groups have become so widespread that Shirin Ebadi, one of the leading figures of the opposition and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, recently wrote: “Instagram has deleted content published on my page several times. I have been warned recently that I might lose access to my account altogether. I have requested support but got no response and I regularly face restrictions on Instagram.”
The issue of Iran’s influence over Instagram content was covered by some media outlets, including Deutsche Welle Farsi and BBC Persian. In an investigative report, Deutsche Welle Farsi revealed that Mehdi Norouzi, the son of a former Islamic Republic envoy to Bulgaria — Abdollah Norouzi, works at the Telus International branch in Sofia. This raises the question, is the occurrence of this problem limited to the presence of only one individual linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran, or does it go beyond that?
One former and a current employee of the company told BBC Persian, that some content control officials delete users’ content “to their liking”. A claim that is consistent with complaints of Instagram and Facebook users about the removal of their content. In response to these allegations, Meta said that the company’s rules are very strict, and it carefully monitors the performance of its employees so that no mistakes are made. But Mehdi, an employee of Telus International, said he had witnessed people in the company acting “in favor” of the government. According to Mehdi: “What I have witnessed myself is that people, both at the lower level and in higher positions, are pro-government in their own words, and it can be understood that they receive tips and orders from the government. Another former employee of the company explained that most of the Iranian employees who work there are students who frequently visit Iran.