Beware Of Friend Requests In Iran

By Meredith Singer Comment

In Iran, logging onto Facebook isn’t just a fun way to pass the time and catch up with friends. It’s a crime – punishable by jail time.

Houshang Fanaian found that out the hard way. The 47-year-old Baha’I man was awarded one more year in prison for his session on the social networking site.

He had previously been sentenced for acting against national security and “insulting the country’s supreme leader” because of his religious activism, according to Radio Free Europe.

Fanaian’s sentencing may be a rarity, but his case and others indicate that Iranian authorities are keeping a closer eye on Iranians’ Facebook activities.

According to some activists, authorities have taken to sending rights campaigners and intellectuals they suspect of engaging in anti-state activities a friend request to determine what information is being posted.

The country banned its citizens from using the social networking site, but despite that (or maybe, in part, because of it) the social media site has become even more popular within the country.

Users log on using pseudonyms and some use the open forum to discuss political developments with people both in and out of the country.

Facebook has also been used in Iran, as it has many other countries, to advertise in-person protests. One such protest occurred in February, “where a protest to support the Arab uprising attracted tens of thousands of Iranians to the streets,” Radio Free Europe said. Since then, the organizers of the event have been held under house arrest.

Even university students in Iran report being questioned and even facing discipline for their Facebook pages. In one case, a student who had posted photos of a private party was questioned because of the display of what some considered “immoral” behavior.

Although the Iranian government is trying to rule by fear, Facebook users are finding a work-around: Many have created two Faceboook pages, one under their real name and a secret one where they post about state politics, the poor condition of the economy, lack of freedom and other grievances.

But we wonder if this work-around is a good long-term solution. After all, Facebook’s rules state users can’t have duplicate accounts. If authorities shut down Iranian citizens’ duplicate pages, will government be, in essence, destroying the free speech and networking they’ve tried to foster in the first place?

Readers, do you think Facebook should allow users to have more than one account?