- The images now carry a large blue frame with the words \'Images Blocked\' in big red letters. Accompanying messages announce that \'Operation Spider 2\' is underway.
- In February, a website affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards had confirmed the arrest of seven Iranian fashion models. The statement from the Center for Organised Crime in Cyberspace alleges that these social media accounts promote a \"Western culture of promiscuity\".
Over the last two days, a number of fashion boutiques, hairdressers for women and film and photography studios in Iran have been reporting that their Instagram profiles have been hacked by something called 'Operation Spider 2'.
The photos on the pages now feature a blue frame with the words 'Images Blocked' in big red letters. Messages displayed on the pages announce that Operation Spider 2 is underway. Another message warns that Article 472 of the Islamic Penal Code prohibits producing and publishing obscene images, and articles 639 and 743 prohibit inciting others to commit immoral acts, and using cyberspace for this purpose.
Operation Spider or Project Spider is a surveillance initiative by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - a military or paramilitary elite unit that plays the role of key protection force of the new regime - to monitor Iranian internet users on social media such as Facebook.
The surveillance project - aimed at identifying and rooting out Facebook pages and activities that spread "corruption" and western-inspired lifestyles - has reportedly been extended to Instagram, Viber, and WhatsApp.
IranWire reports that some of the blocked Instagram pages belong to several Iranian fashion models who were arrested earlier this year - on the grounds of "moral corruption". The report also says that the users have reportedly been warned that the authorities would soon take action.
In February this year, a news report titled Earthquake in Instagram on a website affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards confirmed the arrest of seven Iranian fashion models - Melikaa Zamani, Niloofar Behboudi, Donya Moghadam, Dana Nik, Shabnam Molavi, Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei.
Prior to the Earthquake in Instagram article, the arrests were only discussed on unconfirmed social media reports. The models were allegedly arrested for what the authorities have termed as inappropriate conduct online.
The Center for Organised Crime in Cyberspace - a part of the Revolutionary Guard - reported that it had arrested several Facebook users for promoting moral corruption and also issued a statement explaining its actions.
The statement said that over the course of two years, the accused created nearly 350 pages on Facebook and had attracted large audiences. "They were guilty of promoting a culture of promiscuity, weakening and rejecting the institution of family, ridiculing religious values and beliefs, promoting relationships outside moral rules, and publishing the private pictures of young women," the statement read.
Mostafa Alizadeh, spokesman for the Center for Organised Crime in Cyberspace, said in an interview, "My organisation had gained information about the arrested people through informers using the website Gerdab, or "Vortex," which publishes news and reports about the activities of the Revolutionary Guards in Cyberspace."
Operation Spider runs deeper than you think
Operation Spider was publicised in January 2015 when the Center for Investigation of Organised Crime issued a statement announcing that several Facebook users had been arrested under Operation Spider. 12 Iranian Facebook users were arrested and 24 others were summoned to answer questions about their Facebook activities.
The Center for Investigation of Organised Cyber Crimes said the operation was an attempt to "identify and arrest some of the most important elements and active social networks on the Internet who have a mission to spread corruption and diminish the Iranian-Islamic way of life and targeting the holy institution of the family."
Alleging that Western governments were indirectly supporting these networks, the center said these activities led to -"Proliferation of the culture of a hedonistic lifestyle, weakening the foundations and negating the institution of the family, mocking the religious beliefs and values, spreading relations outside of moral codes, spreading personal images of young girls - which creates conflicts in families and possibly of their disintegration, abusing youths and adolescents, including girls and boys, and production and distribution of immoral and anti-religious material in the form of tabloid and popular content on the social network of Facebook."
The Iranian cyber police is responsible for handling cyber crimes. But, this has not stopped the Revolutionary Guards from conducting their own operations and arresting people who post jokes about Ayatollah Khomeini. Since September 2014, the IRGC intensified its review of Facebook pages. Over 350 Facebook pages managed by 36 individuals have been identified and 130 of them deleted from Facebook.
And with the news of the Instagram censorship, other social media platforms may soon face more control (if they aren't already), courtesy Operation Spider.
Edited by Blassy Boben