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Iraqis Use Dark Web Services Amid Internet Cut Off, Social Media Bans

Baghdad (Alliance News) - Iraqis are turning to dark web services like the Tor network and proxy providers after social media websites, including Facebook and Twitter, have been blocked in Iraq.

  Source http://www.morningstar.co.uk/uk/news/AN_1403015152096147100/iraqis-use-dark-web-services-amid-internet-cut-off-social-media-bans.aspx

Users in certain parts of the country are saying getting online at all is proving very challenging and internet activity in the country has seen a sharp decline since last week.

The government's move appears to be an effort to clamp down on information being spread by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has captured vast swaths of the country this month. The Sunni extremist group ISIL and its multitude of online supporters have been sharing horrific videos and photos, including beheadings of Iraqis based on religious grounds, such as belonging to Shiite Islam. Last week, ISIL supporters taunted residents of Baghdad on Twitter as the militia moved closer to the capital.

Usage of the Tor network - a relay system used to avoid detection and work around internet censorship - has skyrocketed by more than 600% in the past few days. Usage of virtual private networks (VPN) is also on the rise. Journalists reporting on the ongoing conflict find these work-arounds - and expensive satellite equipment - are the only ways to access current information being spread over Twitter, Whatsapp and other social media services.

The country as a whole is experiencing intermittent telephone and internet services, with disruptions widespread. Metric data shows internet usage in Iraq has taken a drastic hit since Friday.

 A letter which was leaked online and appears to be from the Ministry of Communications demands a black out of all web services in five provinces: Nineveh, Anbar, Saleh al-Din, Kirkuk and Diyalah. All these areas have seen fighting in recent days. The Social Media Exchange (SMEX), a Lebanon-based group advocating internet freedoms in the Arab world, slammed the crackdown on social media sites and the localized total internet outages.

 "In addition to being a violation of Iraqis' rights, the action is seen as a rejection of efforts by Iraqi bloggers of the country-wide Iraqi Network for Social Media to fight false news not with censorship but with more accurate news," SMEX said in a statement. Twitter has closed several ISIL accounts including its official accounts for Nineveh and Salah al-Din.

However, the group quickly set up new accounts. Some users on Twitter have pushed back against these efforts, saying the ISIL accounts provide valuable information on the unfolding situation in Iraq. Anti-censorship activists argue that closing the accounts is nothing more than a cat-and-mouse game.

The Kurdish news service Rudaw also reported attacks on its website.


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