Social media joins protests on the ground in Iran despite internet blackout

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Iranian activists on Twitter have been taking to the social media platform to share videos and updates on the demonstrations, triggered by fuel rationing and price hikes, despite a nationwide internet blackout.

Videos circulated on social media showed demonstrators burning tires to block roads and shouting anti-regime slogans.

Social scientist and political activist Noshin Rad told Al Arabiya that social media has been a major tool for Iranians trying to share the “atrocities” committed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) despite the government trying to prevent any coverage from reaching international media outlets.

“The government has, since last night, shut down the internet in order [to prevent information from spreading]. They do not want the public, and especially people and media outside of Iran to know what kind of atrocities are being committed by the Basij militias and revolutionary guards against the peaceful protesters,” Rad said.

According to cybersecurity NGO NetBlocks, online users first reported outages in the city of Mashhad, which saw internet connectivity drop beginning Friday evening.

“Both mobile and fixed-line outages have been identified in affected cities. Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz and other cities show signs of disruption. The outage is not total and the disruptions do not have national impact at the time of writing suggestive of geographic targeting,” NetBlocks said in its report.

Several protests erupted on Friday in at least 37 cities, including Tehran, after Iran imposed petrol rationing and raised pump prices by at least 50 percent, saying the move was aimed at helping citizens in need with cash handouts.

Rad said that the rising gas prices are not the only factor that pushed Iranians to hold protests, but that it was the years-long corruption, oppression, and poverty they have had to endure that moved them to organize.

“Since the revolution of 1979, corruption and poverty have increased immensely. People do not have enough to buy medicine, to even bring proper food to the table for their families,” she said.

The government has sent threatening messages to several demonstrators warning them of the possibility of arrest or worse if they continue to participate in the protests, Rad said.

That is why activists outside of Iran have taken it upon themselves to share footage of demonstrators in the streets of Iran using several different hashtags, including: “Iran protest” and “Tehran.”

Several activists took to the social media platform to call on Twitter to ban the accounts of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei after he had tweeted in support of the rise in gas prices.

His online presence caused outrage on the platform as several people reported being unable to get in touch with their friends and families in Iran after authorities enforced an internet outage.

Khamenei on Sunday blamed the “counter-revolution and enemies” for “sabotage,” Iranian state TV reported.

However, several social media activists shared footage on Twitter of what they said were IRGC forces pretending to be protesters destroying stores and setting fires in the street.

At least 29 people have been killed since the protests erupted on Friday, and at least 13 others were injured, according to media reports.

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