The Personal is the Political: Internet Filtering and Counter Appropriation in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Issues of trust, privacy and security at the intersection of state intervention and the use of the internet both by ‘publics’ and by individuals for—from the State’s point of view- dispreferred purposes have been of great recent interest to researchers. This has been accompanied by a slowly developing concern for the way in which these issues pan out for people in non-Western cultures. Based on a study of Iranians living in urban centers, we examine the way in which culture, State institutions, technological infrastructure and practices intersect. Iran is a republic with a theocratic constitution and relatively strict regulation of private life. It has one of the highest rates of internet appropriation and social media use in the MENA region, but use is heavily mediated by state interventions, for instance the filtering of sites such as Facebook and Twitter. We show how young Iranians, due to restrictions on their private lives, learn from early age on to deal with illegal access techniques such as proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs). These access technologies are often used for private purposes such as contacting and meeting other genders. However, these capabilities become even more important when preparing to leave the country or to articulate their political dissatisfaction, specifically at moments of political unrest. We discuss and develop the concept of ‘counter-appropriation’ and the ‘counter-public’ to describe the practices of urban dwellers in circumventing increasingly more sophisticated intervention by the state security apparatus.