Iran began shutting down the Internet on September 19 as protests over Amini’s death gained momentum. Since then, many Internet monitoring organizations, including Kentik, Network blocks, Cloudflareand Open observatory of network interference, documented the failures. Mobile operators, including the country’s biggest providers — Irancell, Rightel and MCI — have faced intermittent power outages, the groups said. Several mobile phone providers lost connections for around 12 hours at a time, with Netblocks saying it was experiencing “curfew-style outages”. Felicia Antonio, who heads the NGO Access Now’s fight against the internet shutdown, says the group’s partners have reported that text messages with Amini’s name have been blocked. “If you send a message with that name, it doesn’t go through,” Antonio says.
Pushing Instagram and WhatsApp started on September 21. While the shutdown of mobile communications is devastating, blocking access to WhatsApp and Instagram shuts down some of the only social media services left in Iran. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been banned for years. Iran’s state-supported media said it was unclear how long the Instagram and WhatsApp blocks would last, but they were put in place for “national security” reasons. “They seem to be targeting these platforms that are a lifeline for information and communication that support the protests,” said Mahsa Alimardani, a scholar at the Oxford Internet Institute who has extensively studied blackouts and controls in Iran on the Internet.
A member of the 1500tasvir team says the account, run by a group of about 10 key people both inside and outside Iran, has been posting videos to document the protests. People from around the world send in videos — with spotty connections in some areas and fixed Wi-Fi connections still working — and the team reviews the content before posting it online. The group says it receives more than 1,000 videos a day, and its Instagram account has more than 450,000 followers.
Team member 1500tasvir says shutting down the internet could have a “huge” impact on protests because if people around Iran don’t see others protesting, they’re likely to stop themselves. “When you … see that other people feel the same way, you become more courageous. You have more enthusiasm to do something about it,” they say. “When the internet is down… you feel lonely.”
The WhatsApp blocks also seem to have affected people outside of Iran. People using Iranian +98 phone numbers complain that WhatsApp is slow or not working at all. WhatsApp has refused he is doing everything to block Iranian phone numbers. However, the Meta-owned company declined to provide more information on why +98 numbers outside Iran were experiencing problems. “There’s something strange going on, and it’s probably related to the way Iran implements censorship on these different platforms, because it seems more targeted,” Alimardani says.