Iran finds itself in the crosshairs of social-media censorship, along with a number of other countries that are, incidentally or not, in the crosshairs of the U.S. State Department.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA — Press TV — the Iranian government-funded TV news outlet — has been “shut down” on Google’s platforms, including YouTube and Gmail. The move coincides with similar action taken against HispanTV, an Iranian Spanish-language channel. With increasing repression of Iran’s official vehicles of communication to the world, the country’s voice is stifled in front of international audiences — and that’s the goal.
“The Google account for [Press TV] was disabled and can’t be restored because it was used in a way that violates Google’s policies,” the company told the outlet in an email.
The internet behemoth refused to offer any further reason. Press TV noted that Google “has refused to offer an explanation for shutting down the accounts.” They add that they have violated “none” of Google’s listed policies.
A consistent target of censorship
Iran has been on the receiving end of more than its share of censorship. Facebook has repeatedly banned “networks” it believes are “tied to Iran.” Meanwhile, both Press TV and HispanTV have faced prior crackdowns from Google. Recently, Instagram banned a number of Iranian officials following the U.S. designation of Iran’s military as a foreign terrorist organization. In some cases, Facebook has even worked with CIA-funded cybersecurity firms to target accounts. The State Department later trumpeted those findings in a report on Iran’s cybersecurity threat to the U.S., but opted to omit the source of the evidence.
Here's what it looks like in the report. Conveniently, the part of the image with "FireEye" is grayed out to the point most will gloss over it. In the text, it says "Facebook, Twitter, and other[s]" assessed the accounts spread disinfo for Iran. (It was FireEye) pic.twitter.com/hvWHhv9cHb
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) September 25, 2018
Iran finds itself in the crosshairs of social-media censorship with a number of other countries that are, incidentally or not, in the crosshairs of the U.S. State Department. Those countries — in Beltway parlance, members of the “axis of evil” (Russia, China and Venezuela) — have also faced bans on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google since hysteria over “Russian influence” ops, or meme warfare, overtook the U.S. in the aftermath of the 2016 election.
It’s also not the first time Press TV has faced this kind of censorship from Google. It notes that it was first dropped from YouTube in August 2013.
While there do not appear to be any news reports offering insight into the disabling of Press TV’s accounts, Israeli media has picked up on the ban of HispanTV, which stated:
HispanTV has suffered constant blockage and censorship from Google, despite the violation of freedom of expression. Last Thursday, it again blocked access to YouTube accounts, preventing us from uploading new videos on its platform.”
A wire article carried by both the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel cites HispanTV’s publishing of “an article that spread throughout Latin America claiming that Israel uses Palestinian prisoners on which to perform medical tests.”
— Press TV (@PressTV) April 19, 2019
But HispanTV didn’t make up the charge out of thin air. It cited the head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, Muhamad Baraka, who is a member of the Knesset and made the charge. Baraka said:
This is a clear war against humanity and international rights groups must take Israel to the [International Criminal Court] over its crimes against prisoners.
There are reports that the Ministry of Health issued licenses to several international companies to carry out medical tests on Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails without their knowledge.
This crime is added to the record of crimes against the Palestinians, mainly the prisoners inside Israeli jails, who are being denied their basic rights.”
A report on Baraka’s denunciations is also carried by Middle East Monitor, which has not been banned.
While there isn’t any hard evidence linking the HispanTV report to Google’s crackdown, Israeli media appears all-too-eager to draw a connection.
Tools for hostile U.S. policies
HispanTV News Director Dr. Ali Ejarehdar called out American tech companies for acting in accordance with “hostile” U.S. policies. They “act within the framework of the policies of their country,” he told Al-Alam, continuing:
This is not the first time; on several occasions they have applied different measures to show the world a distorted image of Iran. On several occasions, they took our channel off the air, under the pretext of anti-Iranian sanctions. Yet the embargoes have nothing to do with media and can not prevent freedom of expression.
[America] tasked Google and YouTube to do the bidding of its hostile policies and block access to the official accounts of channels of the Iranian foreign news services… In certain situations, they have even threatened our correspondents and journalists.”
Earlier this year, U.S. authorities placed an American Press TV journalist, Marzieh Hashemi, in jail for 10 days despite her not having been charged with a crime. In an explanation as opaque as the one offered by Google in its decision to disable the Iranian accounts, Hashemi was said to have been detained because she was wanted as a “material witness” to a grand jury investigation. No further information regarding her imprisonment has been offered.
For years, the arrogant Western media created waves in the world in order to pursue their goals, but the founding of televisions, such as HispanTV, RT, and others brought a different message. Global American arrogance does not want the voice of truth to reach the world.”
Behind the bans
Google’s crackdown on Iran is multifaceted, not just singling out its media for censorship, but also shutting down the accounts of its officials. Indeed, Google is on a path to destroy Iran’s ability to independently communicate its message to the world.
MintPress News has previously reported on how the U.S. decision to designate Iran’s military as a “foreign terrorist organization” gives the Trump administration all the pretext it needs to go to war with Iran. It is possible that this designation has also emboldened Google’s crackdown on Iranian accounts.
Facebook said one of the account groups was discovered as it stepped up investigation efforts ahead of the midterms. They did NOT allege that the pages intended to disrupt them.
& ICYMI, Facebook was tipped off to the pages by FireEye, a cybersecurity firm bankrolled by the CIA https://t.co/oA2PGPvdyW
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) August 22, 2018
As reported by The Grayzone, in the immediate hours following the announcement, Instagram, a photo-sharing platform owned by social media giant Facebook, closed the accounts of “several top Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.”
Also included in the ban were “several Iranian officials, from military commanders to politicians with no ties to the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp].”
Al-Monitor reported at the time:
Instagram’s ban on IRGC pages has triggered comprehensive debates about the platform’s independence, leaving many wondering if Instagram is genuinely observing freedom of expression. ‘Insta-Trump’ was the sarcastic portmanteau coined by the hard-line newspaper Javan. The paper, which reflects the IRGC’s official views, attacked Instagram for employing ‘primitive measures aimed at blocking a free flow of information on social media.’”
Al-Monitor noted that at the time, the IRGC was receiving heavy praise from Instagram users for its efforts in coordinating relief in Iran, which was suffering from devastating floods. Iran’s Foreign Ministry accused the Trump administration of blocking their efforts to aid flood victims with its sanctions. Al-Monitor continued:
Accusations that Instagram is practicing double standards and advancing a political agenda gained further momentum when the ban targeted non-IRGC figures, among them Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric who lost the 2017 presidential race to Hassan Rouhani.”
….Also discussed political fairness and various things that @Google can do for our Country. Meeting ended very well!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2019
Late last month, President Donald Trump met with Google President Sundar Pichai, discussing “various things that Google can do for our Country [sic].” The “meeting ended very well!” the president said.
As Yasha Levine, journalist and author of Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet, wrote at the time, “American Internet companies,” such as Google and Facebook, “are not abstract global platforms, but privatized instruments of American geopolitical power.”
Feature photo | American Marzieh Hashemi is shown at a Press TV studio in Tehran, Iran. Press TV via AP
Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.