This post was updated at 1:40 p.m. ET
As Iraq faces a growing insurgency in the north that is threatening to pull the country apart, the country's Ministry of Communications has blocked access to a number of social media sites on Friday.
Cyber Arabs, an organization based in Lebanon that monitors Internet freedom and provides cybersecurity training in the Middle-East and North Africa, confirmed to Mashable that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are all blocked inside Iraq.
"We are disturbed by reports of access issues in Iraq and are investigating," a Facebook spokesperson tells Mashable. "Limiting access to Internet services — essential for communication and commerce for millions of people — is a matter of concern for the global community."
“We're seeing reports that some users are not able to access YouTube in Iraq," a YouTube spokesperson tells Mashable. "There is no technical issue on our side and we’re looking into the situation.”
A Twitter spokesperson says the company is looking into the reports as well.
This is what some users in Iraw are seeing when logging into Facebook and Twitter, according to screenshots provided by Cyber Arabs to Mashable.
Earlier on Friday, some Twitter users in Iraq, who have found ways to circumvent the restrictions, said that the sites were all inaccessible. When users attempt to visit these sites they apparently see a message from the Iraqi communications ministry.
The BBC's Richard Galpin also reported that the sites appeared to be blocked in Baghdad.
The Kuwait News Agency says a source in the Iraqi Ministry of Communications confirmed the news, suggesting it is part of the government's attempt to stop the militants from using social media to spread propaganda. The source also says a number of pornographic websites were blocked as well.
The Iraqi federal government has decided to block a number of websites and social networking sites across the country, said source in Iraqi Ministry of Communications on Friday. The ministry of communications has been instructed by government to block access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as a number of pornographic websites, a source told KUNA. The source did not reveal the motive for blocking these sites at the moment, although some see it as part of government measure to prevent militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) from using media outlets. ISIL militants have released videos and pictures through websites to promote their actions in central and north of Iraq.
Ahmad Zoughbi, a member of the Cyber Arabs, told Mashable that the risk now is that Iraqi netizens might use unsafe versions of circumvention tools like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that are infected with malware and spyware — something that has happened before in Syria, for example.
Users should "stick to the basic digital security rules and trusted tools to stay safe," he said.
Some users also reported that messaging services like WhatsApp and Viber were down, too.
Iraq's Ministry of Communications had posted to Facebook on Friday announcing that Internet service would be taken down on June 15 "for maintenance of optical cable carriers across the Turkish border." It's not clear if the current downtime is related to the planned outages. We've reached out to the ministry for comment.
In the last few days, Internet monitoring firms like Akamai and Renesys had reported significant outages and issues with the Internet in Iraq. On Friday, Akamai reported another "unusual degradation" that occurred at 10 a.m. UTC (6.30 a.m. ET). It's unclear at this point what's the cause of these disruptions.