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!