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With YouTube Blocked, Iran Offers State Sanctioned Online Video Alternative

BY Julia Wetherell | Monday, December 10 2012

Logo for Mehr.Ir

After restricting nationwide access to Gmail and Google Search earlier this fall, Iran has put forward a new effort against the Internet conglomerate’s YouTube arm, in the form of a state-sanctioned online video provider operated by the IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Service).

The service known as Mehr — that’s the Farsi word for “affection” — aims to connect the Persian-speaking web and promote Iranian culture through user-uploaded videos, according to an IRIB official, though a bulk of the site will also be devoted to IRIB-produced TV content. Iran has actively censored YouTube since 2009, when concerns of corruption over the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lead to protests that were widely documented on the video platform, exposing the internationalcommunity to the opposition.

Aparat — the video website operated by Cloob, a social network that is Iran’s version of the oft-censored Facebook — is an existing alternative to YouTube in the country, but many Iranians are circumventing the government blocks with VPNs. Efforts on part of the government to prevent citizens from accessing Twitter, pornographic sites, international news portals like CNN and the BBC, and anti-Islamic content were doubled down this summer , and Reuters reported last week that Chinese telecommunications firms have been shopping surveillance systems to Iranian broadband providers intended to track the online movements of users.

Could it all be part of an effortto create an off-the-grid “Islamic Internet”?

Rumors this summer of a countrywide Intranet for Iran were ultimately debunked, but the Islamic Republic continues to tighten censorship. In the meantime, Mehr is on Facebook.

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