Having experienced internet censorship in China, I was more prepared for the frustration that would come behind Iran’s firewall. Though the situation is broadly similar, there are a handful of differences:
- The number of sites censored is larger. One survey found that 50% of the most popular 500 sites in the world were out. I suspect this bluntness is because the system is less sophisticated than China’s: it needs to block who sites rather than pages with specific keyword.
- Pretty much all foreign news sources are out, including country specific ones like stuff.co.nz and nzherald.co.nz though inexplicably tvnz.co.nz is still accessible. Most politically oriented blogs are also out, although I can use my own without much trouble.
- You can search for almost anything you want on google (e.g. “Iran nuclear weapons”) and you can see the search results. But you will be blocked when you click on a specific link. In China I normally couldn’t even get to the search results page. I’m not sure this is a deliberate policy decision, but it seems laudable that you can see what you’re being restricted from seeing.
- Everything on the English language version of wikipedia seems accessible, no matter how controversial.
- Using VPNs to get around the censorship seems more common, and the Iranian government generally just lets it happen. There are 4 million Iranians technically illegally accessing Facebook and, in a tacit and almost paradoxical acknowledgement of this, the Iranian government has a Facebook presence of its own.
The new frustration is with internet speeds. I don’t really understand the connection, but supposedly in order to make its censorship more effective, the Iranian government limits the speed that internet service providers can offer to a maximum of 128kbps. That’s about twice as fast as the dial up speeds of the late 1990s, or around 250 times slower than an entry level fibre based broadband product at home in New Zealand. Things get even slower when you’re using software to get around the firewall.
All this throttling makes me want to throttle something.