Disinformation campaigns cannot be prevented by shutting down Iranian websites, says a Tehran-based journalist.
As the US confirmed that it has blocked dozens of websites affiliated with Iran, the popular perception amongst Iranians is that the American public has been robbed of the opportunity to know the Shia-majority country better from Iran-linked websites than consuming information from Western outlets.
Washington announced the seizure of 36 Iranian-linked websites on Tuesday, citing disinformation campaigns as the reason to restrict them within the US borders. The gag includes the ones that are directly run from Tehran.
The US has imposed sanctions on Iran on different occasions, targeting various sectors. The seizing of Iranian websites comes on the heels of the 2019 sanctions and Washington claims the barred web domains were linked to the country’s hardliner Revolutionary Guards.
According to Fatima Karimkhan, a Tehran-based Iranian journalist, shutting down websites is not a good idea to prevent any "disinformation" campaign.
“Those who seize the websites said that they are fighting the disinformation. But in order to fight the disinformation campaigns, you have to have more journalists deployed on the ground,” she says.
Iranians, in general, want to clear all the misconceptions Americans have had about them in order to bridge the widening gap and for that, as per Karimkhan, the US should allow its public to access information coming from Iran and help its people clear deep-seated prejudice against the Shia-majority country.
“Filtering and shutdowns are not the answer in this case. If they [Americans] want to separate disinformation from real information, they need to allow more Iranian access to the global public, not less,” Karimkhan tells TRT World.
Some Iranians reacted to the gag on social media, invoking sarcasm. For them, Tehran is getting a taste of their own medicine since it started the game of filtering and censoring content inside Iran and now they are facing another filtering from "Big Brother in Washington".
The banned websites used the internet domains that belonged to US-registered companies, so it was easier for Washington to block them from the internet. The websites however were quick to switch to other domains that are registered either in Iran or elsewhere.
Press TV, Iran's state-run main English-language satellite television channel and Al Alam, which is Press TV’s Arabic-language equivalent, are among the seized websites. Despite their fierce anti-American rhetoric, both websites have used American internet infrastructure to publish their content.
Is there any underlying message to Tehran?
Iran and the US have been in the business of sending mixed messages since Joe Biden became the president of America. The cryptic exchanges continued as the two countries are in the process of negotiating the restoration of the nuclear deal in Vienna.
The recent website shutdowns come after the US decided to pull out some of its military hardware including Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. Experts have thought that the US withdrawal appears to send a positive diplomatic message to Iran which could be read as Washington is no longer posing any threat to Tehran.
But Ebrahim Raisi, the hardliner president-elect of Iran sent a negative signal to Washington. Raisi refused to reach out to US President Joe Biden for a meeting when reporters recently asked him if he would make that move in the near future.
But with the closure of Iranian websites, many wonder whether Washington is trying to convey something to Tehran.
Karimkhan finds the move out of step with reality. He says that Americans are perhaps trying to say they are "less willing to hear" Iran's voice and that the gag might get worse with the US pulling a few strings to cut Iran's media access to the global public.
“If they [the US] want to send a political message, they must try some other ways”.