The Iranian government has called for legal action against Instagram after the social media platform removed posts that offered support for assassinated General Qassem Soleimani. The move has prompted outrage within the Iranian Instagram community — there are 24 million active users of the platform in the country — as many find their accounts censored or shut down altogether.
The latter include Tasnim News Agency and other state-owned publications. Iranian influencers, human rights advocates and activists are also finding their accounts shut down.
"This poses an immediate threat to freedom of information in Iran," said the International Federation of Journalists.
Journalist in Iran reports @instagram posts removed: 1st of a Quronic verse commemorating martyrs, & 2nd a photo of Soleimani. Would be good to hear what @instagram's decisions are on these moderation policies. Soleimani content still persists on Instagram despite these removals pic.twitter.com/rhM5KXi5Db
— mahsa alimardani 🌒 (@maasalan) January 3, 2020
New York-based Iranian digital rights researcher Amir Rashidi explained that, "Every person I saw who posted about Soleimani on Instagram, almost all of their posts have been removed." It's very widespread, he added. "The only platform where we could freely express ourselves was Instagram, and now Instagram is censoring us."
Instagram is owned by Facebook. Executives have said that they are removing the posts in compliance with US sanctions on Iran.
"We operate under US sanctions laws," said a Facebook spokesperson, "including those related to the US government's designation of the IRGC and its leadership." The US has designated the Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) as a "terrorist organisation".
Instagram is one of the only Western-run platforms not banned by the state of Iran, and is used widely across the country.