Did Iran Just Ban Online Chatting?

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Farzaneh Khademian / ABACA

A portrait of Ayatullah Khamenei on a wall at Iran's Interior Ministry

Did Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, just ban online chatting between unrelated men and women? Both the Jerusalem Post and the exiled opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran website — not exactly unbiased sources on Iranian affairs — say he has. The “ban” is sourced to a response the religious leader gave to a question submitted to his website by a conflicted follower. “Given the immorality that often applies to this, it is not permitted,” Khamenei answered. But a religious ruling does not an official ban make. Fatwas, or religious opinions disseminated by clerics, are not binding. So while Khamenei might discourage his followers from online chatting, for fear that it might lead to flirtation, or worse, he is not likely to order Iran’s religious police to start patrolling chat rooms and looking over texter’s shoulders.

If Iran’s leadership were serious about stopping potentially licentious chatting, they would do something more draconian, like banning the technology that makes it possible. Oh wait, they already did: WeChat, a popular smartphone chatting app was blocked last month, the latest in a long list of social media tools, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, that Iranians are unable to access without the use of proxy servers. That is, most Iranians. Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his voluble Foreign Minster Javad Zarif are active Twitter and Facebook users. Perhaps they should all be more careful about responding to their unrelated female followers.