• 1 September 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2009, Sanctions

How US sanctions will doom Iran’s Twitter uprising


ForeignPolicy.com has an amazing array of blogs, many of which we link to regularly here at niacINsight.  But one that somehow escaped our notice until today is Net Effect, run by Evgeny Morozov, a Belarusian who is in the middle of writing a book about the impact of the Internet on global politics, with a particular focus on authoritarian states (hmm, sound relevant?).

Morozov has written a provocative piece on the unintended impact of comprehensive Iran sanctions and how they restrict the Iranian people’s ability to use the internet as a megaphone for political dissent–(something I think a lot of members of Congress would get behind these days).

Apparently, Google has prohibited their popular Google Ads service to users in Iran.  This is the service that promotes customized commercial sites and promotional offers based on website content. The service is a great way for web entrepreneurs to raise funds and maintain their operations.  And for many Iranians, the internet is the only (remotely) safe place to voice their dissent.

But apparently Google is worried that driving revenue to an Iranian website, even without any US connection, would get them in hot water:

Google doesn’t allow to target visitors from Iran (as well as Cuba, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) because of – you guessed it – the economic sanctions imposed by the US government. Now, this is something that I entirely cannot understand: how exactly would Google AdSense strengthen the Iranian regime? The Iranian state media doesn’t need to use Google Ads to generate its revenue: they are lavishly funded by the state.

The only people who suffer because of these sanctions are the Iranian Web entrepreneurs who are cut off from a guaranteed source of funding.

This truly gets to the heart of one of the most troubling aspects of what Congress’ Iran policy has grown into over the last two decades.  Rather than prohibiting activities that directly benefit the Iranian government, lawmakers have decided to close off the whole of Iranian society, thinking that the only thing that matters is to maximize the amount of discomfort imposed on Tehran.  But unfortunately this overlooks the countless potential opportunities for helping the Iranian people, that also provide absolutely zero assistance to the government.  Google Ads, according to Morozov, would be one of those areas:

[T]here is no need to fear that the Basijis would usurp this space. There are plenty of extremists outside of Iran and Google has learnt how to identify and deal with them; why would they fail to reign the Basijis? If they create content which doesn’t fit Google’s policies, let Google deal with them instead of simply shutting the online advertising option to Iranians.

This is an issue that we have been looking into very closely this summer, and we hope it will be given more attention. Congress needs to wise up on its Iran policy, and take the time to separate the Iranian people, whom they claim to support and admire, from their government.

In the meantime, for everyone who has been discouraged at not being able to help the Iranian people in their struggle for change this summer, here’s a message that you should send to your representatives in Washington: Stop keeping me from helping Iranians, and get out of my way!

Posted By Patrick Disney

    14 Responses to “How US sanctions will doom Iran’s Twitter uprising”

  1. Rob says:

    One thing that is disheartening is the negative, smug, and arrogant attitude taken by this blog toward people, such as people in Congress, that in the bloggers’ opinion “don’t get it.” How about cutting them some slack and not copping an arrogant, pompous, and smug attitude when referring to others? Look, many people, especially those in Congress have a lot of other things to be thinking about, oh such as the economy and health care. It’s not like they spend all their waking hours pondering how every policy decision filters down to Iranians. Their first job is to run the United States, not to look after the care and feeding of Iranian citizens. It’s great that people ARE thinking about such things, but that’s not a reason or excuse to cop an attitude when others haven’t made similar observations. Instead of “Stop keeping me from helping Iranians, and get out of my way!” and sounding like an {expletive}; how about “I’m sure you want to see the Iranian people overcome their current struggles. Toward that goal, perhaps you are not aware that policy X is having adverse impact Y on Irainian citizens. As an alternative, please consider policy Z as a more positive approach.”

  2. Janet says:

    I concur with Rob. I came here and took valuable time to read through this piece hoping to find insightful analysis on the larger question of the impact of sanctions on the Iranian population, as suggested by the title.

    Not only was the focus of the article not on the bigger sanctions picture, but the authors make an irresponsible suggestion (smacking, amazingly, of conservative Republican rhetoric) for how to approach lawmakers on these issues.

    It was my understanding that NIAC had some pretty good analysts on staff; this particular entry disappointed. I hope NIAC cleans up its act – the folks back in Iran need Americans to see the best quality representation of who they are in this time of struggle.

  3. Khashayar Sepas says:

    This article is not based in technological truth.

    Google adsense could in no way benefit Iranian web entrepreneurs as the service often accuses its users of fraud clicks and then simply discontinues their account. A user in Iran will never be able to contest this charge. Google adsense has been coming under fire recently for not honoring their commitment to their customers. How can anyone disprove Google’s claims of fraud clicks?
    Another important point to seriously remember before writing articles such as this is that Affiliate programs such as Amazon and Google require the user to have a bank account for the payments. How can a web entrepreneur between the ages of say 20 to 25 years of old achieve this. Amazon affiliate programs require a phone number either in the UK or the USA. The number is then dialed by Amazon and a verification code previously emailed by Amazon needs to be inserted before the account can be activated.
    Who is this person writing this book about the Internet in global politics. He needs to seriously investigate how these programs work before he speculates about their usage, especially in Iran where common folk do not even have check books or credit cards. Haha!!!
    This is a joke, we have totally ignorant people about the Internet writing books about the Internet. I am an Internet specialist and know about these programs. Last year Google suspended the account of several thousand users using Google adsense and accusing them of fraud clicks. Very few people want to contest these charges as frankly Google adsense is a terrible way to make money on the net. Users in Iran cannot benefit from this, if such programs could benefit them the most obvious would be Ebay, but surely you are aware that Iranians do not posses credit cards such as Visa or Amex where these transactions through PayPal could be possible. Some Iranians do have credit cards but can we seriously believe these to be people who want to deal with Google adsense or Ebay?

  4. Khashayar Sepas says:

    “If they create content which doesn’t fit Google’s policies, let Google deal with them instead of simply shutting the online advertising option to Iranians.”
    I CAANOT believe this kind of dribble is allowed to pass as opinion and analysis. What is this person talking about. What advertising options for, or to, Iranians?
    I would like this author to copy and paste payment methods of Internet affiliate programs so I can see how these Iranian web entrepreneurs may be paid by Google ad-sense or anyone else.
    I didn’t think much of the NIAC before this, but now I see that their technical analysis is provided by a similar quality as their political analysis.

  5. One NIAC Member says:

    To Khashayar Sepas:
    If everything you wrote regarding GoogleAdSense is true, then your response is very respectable. Because of that, I was wondering what is the reason you did not think much of NIAC before this? Also, what other grass root Iranian American organization in USA do you know of that has done even as little or as much as NIAC has done in terms of a voice for the mute Iranians? I am hoping that I am an open minded inquisitive NIAC member. Thank you in advance for your feedback.

  6. Khashayar Sepas says:

    NIAC does not have a sound reputation among discerning Iranians as it is seen to be a lobby for the current regime in Iran. Lobby may be defined in many ways.
    I may not have enough room for this response as you have asked a question that begs reference going back to the 1950s.
    I do not think for a moment that the NAIC is a voice for the mute Iranians as I have never encountered mute Iranians. There are many issues that the NAIC does not consider and its recommendations to the White House and the US admin are detrimental to Iran, and I mean Iran and not the Iranian regime. These two entities are not the same, but the NAIC thinks that they are.
    The NAIC has been pushing every US administration to talk to Iran. Why? And about what? About America’s involvement in the Mossadegh affair? This regime and its founders, such as Khomeini, did not support Mossadegh anyway. Khomeini called him a non-muslim. This regime only uses the Mossadegh downfall as an excuse to reject the US, and somehow try and display itself as the wounded victim. I am offended when the NAIC and even the AIC insist on this. Why do they insist? The NAIC’s argument has been that it is a starting point and I disagree. This should be the starting point. The US should say to the Iranian regime that when Iran gives its people 1/10th of what the Iranians have in the US then it will talk to this regime. Why shouldn’t that be the starting point? Iran is older and wiser than the US, is it not? Shouldn’t the older and wiser know better? Excusing the actions of this regime on the bases that the US is not engaging it is infant prattle and chatter, and somehow if the US engages Iran then the brutal murdering regime of Iran will miraculously lay down its bloody sword, wear a tie and pressed suite and behave civilized. Let me suggest Akham’s Razor solution to this problem. The NAIC needs to dispel its tarnished reputation if it is not affiliated to the ideology of ‘Talk to Iran no matter what’ as this is really very insulting to us Iranians. To sit in the US and be surrounded by all that we have and own and insist that Obama should talk to the regime that rapes a 15 year old boy is utterly worthy of shame.
    Let me ask you this in turn.
    What would you say to that boy’s mother when Obama shakes Ahmadinejad’s hand?

  7. Khashayar Sepas says:

    I meant Ockham’s razor… computer typo correction.

  8. Ali says:


    Contrary to what you imply, NIAC is advocating for a “diplomatic pause.” This position was adopted in conjunction with a poll NIAC took of it’s members to see how they felt about how the US should respond to the crisis in Iran.

    As to why NIAC supports diplomacy – when the situation in Iran reaches a point of political clarity – I simply would ask this question: what is the alternative? Given the reality of Iran’s nuclear program and the pressures it causes, the most likely alternative is war.

    Do you want to repeat the disaster in Iraq again in Iran? NIAC and its members want alternatives. http://niacblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/a-new-iran-policy-for-congress/

    Here’s how NIAC describes what it has done:

    What positions has NIAC taken since June 12th presidential elections in Iran?
    NIAC was the first Iranian-American organization to condemn the Iranian government’s use of violence against peaceful demonstrators and its human rights abuses. In response to the extraordinary events that transpired in June, NIAC was also the first Iranian-American organization to call for new elections to be held in Iran as the only plausible way to end the violence.

    While taking the pulse of the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council has been the only Iranian-American organization consulted regularly by the White House. Through our consultations with the White House, President Obama has taken a strong stance against the violence in Iran while at the same time emphasizing that the Iranian people will determine their own future for themselves.

    NIAC has called on the Iranian government to 1) end political detentions; 2) immediately release opposition figures, human rights defenders, and all other persons arrested for contesting the election results; 3) ensure the humane treatment of detainees; and 4) provide them immediate access to their families, lawyers, and any necessary medical treatment.

    Moreover, NIAC petitioned the EU, Russia and China to use their influence with Iran to pressure the Iranian government to stop the violence and to take these steps.

    NIAC staff have played a major role in the media, discussing the election crisis, human rights violations, and how the United States should respond to the challenges posed by these events. NIAC staff have appeared on every major television news network, including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, the BBC, and the PBS NewsHour. Our coverage and analysis has also been picked up by the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Foreign Policy Magazine, the Atlantic, the Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and many others.

    Going forward, NIAC has encouraged the U.S. government to consider a tactical pause before engaging in high-level diplomacy with Iran. The United States must be sensitive not to negatively influence the situation in Iran and should wait until Iran’s political situation becomes clearer before engaging Iran bilaterally. With the political paralysis in Tehran, Iran’s government currently is not in a position to deliver on negotiations. Failed talks would be the worst outcome, limiting America’s options to sanctions or war.

  9. One NIAC Member says:

    To Khashayar Sepas; Thank you for taking the time to reply. I also read Ali’s reply. All I want to say at this point is a Ghesseh -if I may : Yekee Bood Yekee Nabood, Zeereh gonbade kabood there were many creatures, animals, and plants. Among animals there was this particular species they called Ashrafee Makhlooghat or Enssan. They said the Enssan was way more intelligent and way different from all others. Enssans had complex brains, were sophisticated evolutionary creatures, were able to reason, to love, to create, to think etc.. But at the end it turned out that Enssans had not really evolved as a species in reality. They could not love truly, create good things, reason reasonably, and think good thoughts. At the end, the Ashrafee Makhlooghat destroyed the Gonbade Kabood. Ghessehey maa be sar resseed Khalogheh be khoonash naresseed.


  10. Ben says:

    There are many obstacles that prevent an Iranian web operator to benefit from American and European based internet commerce technologies. Enabling, by the provider of services, Google AdSense and similar services to work in Iran is the least of your worries. You need many pieces, such as proof of identity which can be only provided by a valid bank account and credit card issued in an integrated, non-sanctioned country.

    While is it apparent Mr. Morozov did not research some of the basis mechanics involved with internet commerce, the article still does capture a key consequence of sanctions—businesses’ wholesale abandonment of the means to integrate sanctioned countries into the world of information technology and commerce. It is more cost effective for a business to totally block anything that could potentially lead to a transaction with the targeted countries, than to explore what is and is not allowed by the sanctions.

    On the other hand, it seems that @Khashayar_Sepas and an overwhelming number of Iranian expats are yet to educate themselves on the government/NGO structure of democratic societies. NIAC represents the wish of its members and regularly surveys its membership on policy decisions it represents. 30 years of isolation has led to a powerful regime with little left for the U.S. to leverage. The more business ties we have with Iran the more leverage we have on this repressive regime. Extensive coverage of dissent unleashed after the rigged election was possible because of the number of Iranians armed with video enabled mobile phones and internet access.

  11. Khashayar Sepas says:

    In regards to the previous post. You lost me. I am sure there was a point to that but sadly it seemed to have been a private point shared amongst those few Zire ghom’bade kabood. Alas.
    I think asking any party or parties to engage with Iran is a serious mistake. It really comes down to a few factors which specify how Iran should be dealt with, not simply as a county but as a few fundamental fanatics whom have imposed their radicalism on the rest of Iran. Why should the world not deal with Iran as a government? Simply because the ‘Iranian Government’ is not representative nor responsible for its electrol. If the fact of election rigging is to be accepted then the notion of calling them a government is redundant. As to the proof of the election results it is a matter that is highly questionable for the numbers do not reflect a reality. I do agree that using words such as reality may be a self crafted trap as its definition can steer the course of the debate, but it remains, nonetheless, that if a governments legitimacy is questioned then any negotiation with it must also bear the test of legitimacy. I realize that as Iranians we may never agree on almost anything but we can agree on one matter that transcends beyond nationality; and it is that in the past 30 years this regime has in no way benefited Iran. Culturally, socially, internationally, economically, politically and so on… so on. If the response of this regime to that accusation is that it has survived through sanctions and what have you then the most logical response is that the sanctions symbolize Iran’s blatant disregard for all forms of natural law. The test of any government is how it behaves with its people and how it fulfills the social contract. Iran has earned over 300billion dollars in the past 4 years. Where is it? If the NIAC can show one area in which this regime has brought benefit to the Iranian nation then I shall concede that to be a good bases for negotiation with Iran. Iran’s regime is a criminal which NIAC is proposing to have a dialogue with. I cannot understand this. Are we trying to talk a criminal that holds hostages to give up and leave the building with their hands in the air? Is that the kind of negotiation NIAC is proposing?
    US policy is not to negotiate with hostages takers. I am sorry to be dramatic, but these people are holding 70million as hostages. Ok not 70million, lets say 7 hostages… hostages nonetheless.
    By the way the last comment reeks of a terrible falsehood, that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. This is bad management. What we’re asking our government in the US to do is to try and fix this broken box. That is very bad management and I am sure you folks are too educated to sanction such actions. What NIAC should be doing right now is forming a provisional government and preparing the US people and the US administrators for regime change. Lets not fix this broken box. Lets get a new box. Where does it say that we to play with this broken box. Lets follow the example of the US constitution and declare independence with a document that proclaims this. NIAC should propose a proclamation of action for regime change and independent rule, not juts from foreign nation but independent from domestic fascism and totalitarianism.

  12. One NIAC Member says:

    to Khashayar Sepas; Sorry I lost you. There was no private point shared among a few. The Ghesseh was to point out that regrettably the pain which the mother (in your first note) and the rest of us are experiencing seems to be part of being of the human race. That would be my answer for that mother in pain. There is no other answer than the savagery has become, unfortunately, part of being Enssan!. We have failed as intelligent specie who is supposed to think, reason, create and be above the rest of the living creatures. We are no better and probably worst than the jungle animals in relationship to each other. The second point is that right now the US can do so many other things than war to make Iran think about the consequences of their actions. But for example US is letting the representative of that government travel here, stay here and have a free speech. The situation is much more complex, for me to explain everything I think in three paragraphs. In short, US has much more muscle power than it is using. The only muscle power is not war. And perhaps NIAC is trying to ask US to use other muscles rather than to turn Iran into another Lebanon or Iraq. Iran becoming Iraq or Lebanon I am against. Also, it seems to me that you have more experience than me in writing, but don’t let that cause you to belittle the content of what I am trying to say. I would highly appreciate that.

  13. Khashayar Sepas says:

    My intention was not belittle you in any shape or form. I believe that in the heat of discussions reason in born, just as in the heat of the metal its shape may be altered. Your suggestion is sound regarding the flexing of other muscles that the US may use. However, you are sidelining an imperative issue and it borders on the fringe that the leaders of Iran do not operate within the parameters of reason. Now you may ask ‘What is reason?’ to which I would follow the example of Ponchos Pilot when he asked ‘What is truth?’ but did not remain to hear the answer. I jest with myself on such matters. There can never be reason within any political ideology which Iran outlines for itself simply based on the fact that it declares itself as an ‘Islamic Republic’. You know as well as I that this is an extravagant contradiction. How can Iran claim to operate on half of God and yet hold elections. This is absurd and it is not within the frame-work of a ‘Republic’ where the people decide the course of their lives and their country. The idea of negotiating with anyone that even leans towards this thinking is itself lunacy.
    NIAC should focus on regime change and not on brokering deals. As I said in my original text, almost every Iranian that I encounter claims that NIAC is a lobby for the Islamic regime.
    Whet we claim in this comment field is regardless of this fact and thought. This is what they think and I might add that even Amirahmadi is accused of this too. Brokering any deal with this regime shall inherit that wrath of being called a lobby for the Islamic regime.
    As I said before, this regime is a hostage taker, why should we waste our time with them?
    You cite Lebanon and Iraq, and my response to that is Iran is currently worse than those two. This regime is gearing up to segregating (tagzieh) Iran. These regime is not here to rule, it is here to seek vengeance as it claims it should in their version of fundamental Islam.

  14. Commonov says:

    I’m very luck not leave in that country.

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Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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