Iran’s Internet Restrictions Impact Businesses and Communication

Iran has implemented internet restrictions following protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, forcing businesses and individuals to find alternative ways to operate and communicate. Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, died on September 16, 2022, after being arrested for violating the country’s strict dress code for women. Her death sparked nationwide protests that resulted in hundreds of fatalities, including security personnel. The authorities responded by imposing restrictions on social media platforms and other online activities.

The internet blackout had a significant impact on businesses, with online interactions dropping and profits declining. Alma Samimi, an online leather bag seller, reported an 80 percent drop in profits, as her Instagram account, which had a large following, suffered. These restrictions come at a time when many Iranians are already grappling with economic challenges, including inflation and the decline of the Iranian rial. The economic situation has worsened due to US sanctions imposed in 2018 after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal.

Business owners have appealed to Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi to lift the restrictions, but more than a year later, they remain in place. Some entrepreneurs have resorted to using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and anti-filter tools to bypass the censorship. Demand for VPN services in Iran has significantly increased since the protests.

In addition to affecting businesses, the internet restrictions have also impacted communication. Mohammad Rahim Pouya, a psychologist who offers online therapy sessions, reported losing more than 50 percent of his clients during the early days of the blackout. Maintaining communication with clients abroad has been challenging.

The Iranian government has spent a significant amount of money on implementing these restrictions, making it the second-highest spender on internet limitations globally. Meanwhile, Iranian citizens have been left with limited alternatives, as Western social media platforms are blocked, and local alternatives have not gained significant popularity.

Despite the limitations and challenges, businesses and individuals continue to seek ways to navigate the internet restrictions. The long-term impact of these measures on the country’s economy and communication landscape remains uncertain.