International news has this week been dominated by the dramatic military gains made in Iraq by fundamentalist Islamic militant group ISIS. Regularity described in Western media reports as ‘too extreme even for Al Qaeda’, ISIS has gained notoriety for posting brutal images and videos of atrocities (ranging from executions, public floggings, amputations and crucifixions) on social media websites.
‘ISIS appears to be attempting to recruit fighters from Europe via social media. Twitter’
In response to this use of social media as a propaganda machine, and in order to help restrict the militants’ ability to organize using social media networks, the Iraqi government last week ordered the closing ‘all internet services’ in certain provinces, and the restricting of social media and VPN services nationally,
‘Due to the current national security concerns and the exceptional developing situation in our beloved country, the national security advisory board has decreed the following:
- Firstly, stopping all Internet services completely and absolutely for the districts of Nineveh, Al-Anbar, Saladin, Kirkuk, Diyala.
- Secondly, stopping all access to Virtual Private Networks (VPN) in all of Iraq starting at 4:00PM and until 7:00AM daily.
- Thirdly, stopping all access to the following Internet applications in all of Iraq: Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Viber and Skype.’
The Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) had earlier reported that the Iraqi ‘ministry of communications has been instructed by government to block access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as a number of pornographic websites’.
Why ‘pornographic websites’ were banned in the face of such a military crisis is anyone’s guess, but a Facebook spokesperson responded to the report by saying the block ‘a matter of concern.’
Internet activists in Iraq have responded by arguing that blocking communications channels is likely to have opposite of the intended effect, and could in fact play into ISIS’s hands by allowing then to spread rumors,
a lot of fake news coming from #ISIS on #Social_Media about #Iraq like using photos from war in #syria or tweet a fake news about Victory
— Iraqi Blogger (@Hamzoz) June 13, 2014
The best way to fight rumors is not by cutting Internet in many Provinces in #Iraq#insm_iq 1/2
— Mohamad محمد (@MoNajem) June 13, 2014
Maleki should learn from his own citizens, fighting false news by more accurate news is coming from @IN4SM Bloggers #insm_iq#Iraq 2/2
— Mohamad محمد (@MoNajem) June 13, 2014.