Iranians surf the web in an Internet cafe at a shopping center in central Tehran
Iranians surf the web in an Internet cafe at a shopping center in central Tehran Photo by AP
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With online dating websites prohibited in Iran, singles are discretely frequenting chat rooms, in the hope of finding a date or a mate, according to Al-Monitor.

Match-making and dating websites are illegal in Iran, so almost all local websites for meeting people take the form of chat rooms rather than sites designated for match-making. Even the chat rooms require permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

According to the Iranian Cyber Police, or FATA, a branch of the Iranian Disciplinary Force, dating websites are illegal and the ones that do exist and are active, according to FATA's spokesman, “are operated by servers outside Iran and simply rip off users."

But single, tech-savvy Iranians have found the Iranian-based chat rooms conducive for dating.

According to Neda, a 27-year-old medical student from Shiraz, chat rooms are the only way she can find boyfriends, Al-Monitor writes. Neda indulges in chats and dates without telling her parents who would disapprove. She arranges the dates before or after classes at school "so my mom thinks I'm spending time in the lab or have an extra class of some kind at the university."

The chat rooms range from a handful that are endorsed by religious authorities and provide matchmaking services for Iranians seeking marital partners, to more liberal secret ones that cater covertly to straight and gay Iranians. "What we do in Iran is a big service, sometimes including sacrifices, given the risks we occasionally take," the founder of one such site told Al-Monitor.

Privacy is not guaranteed since the sites are sometimes monitored by government authorities. Some of the chat rooms openly warn users about the round-the-clock presence of “designated observers” who, at times, may mediate conversations.

The few legal websites tend to be on the more conservative side. They sometimes offer advice on finding boyfriends or girlfriends that boils down to clichés like "be handsome and say no to girls" or "expect lavish gifts and say no to boys."