Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

With Both Scalpel and Cudgel, Iran Censors Wikipedia

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, November 13 2013

Screenshot of Emma Watson's Persian Wikipedia page, which is blocked in Iran.

What do the BBC, the Bahá'í faith and Emma Watson have in common? They are among the 963 blocked Persian Wikipedia articles according to a report released earlier this month, “Citation Filtered: Iran's Censorship of Wikipedia.”

Researchers Collin Anderson and Nima Nazeri, of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, scanned 800,000 Persian language Wikipedia article using proxy servers in Iran. More than half of the blocked pages were biographies: government rivals, officials, journalists, rappers, activists, or individuals the state has allegedly detained or killed.

It was previously known that Iran uses keyword blacklists to filter and block URLs. Anderson and Nazeri found that many keywords, generally sexual or profane terms, were the cause of otherwise inoffensive pages being blocked. According to an infographic based on their research, 28 blacklisted keywords resulted in 92 blocked pages, of which a third were misidentified as sexual or profane (the Atoll Bikini coral reef and the chemical compound Stearalkonium, for example).

Iran also uses URL filtering, which blocks specific pages based on the address, meaning the pages have to be specifically targeted. There were 871 intentionally blocked pages.

Anderson and Nazeri sorted the blocked pages into different themes, and found that most blocked pages (42 percent) were “Civil & Political,” a hefty lead on the next largest category, “Sex & Sexuality” (20 percent). More than 150 pages of the 403 political articles were about the 2009 election and Green Movement.

“[Wikipedia]’s [a] useful place to uncover the types of online content forbidden and an excellent template to identify keyword blocking themes and filtering rules that apply across the greater internet,” Anderson told BuzzFeed.

In spite of his research, Anderson said to Buzzfeed, “I think we may see a day in [the] next six months to a year where Facebook or Twitter will be unblocked.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

For a round-up of our weekly stories, subscribe to the WeGov mailing list.

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

First POST: Hot Spots

How Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is making inroads in China; labor protests among Uber drivers spread to more cities; new data about the prevalence of online harassment; and much, much more. GO

wednesday >

First POST: Reminders

Why the RNC hasn't managed to reboot how Republican campaigns use voter data; new ways of using phone banking to get out the vote; how the UK's digital director is still ahead of the e-govt curve; and much, much more. GO

tuesday >

First POST: Patient Zero

Monica Lewinsky emerges with a mission to fight cyber-bullying; Marc Andreessen explains his political philosophy; tech donors to MayDay PAC get pushback from Congressional incumbents; and much, much more. GO

monday >

First POST: Front Pagers

How Facebook's trending topics feed is wrecking political news; debating the FBI's need for an encrypted phone "backdoor"; democratizing crisis data; and much, much more. GO

friday >

First POST: Tracking

Questions about whether Whisper is secretly tracking its users' secrets; the FBI's continued push against the new wave of encrypted phones; community service, high-tech-mogul-style; and much, much more. GO

More