The crypto has long been touted as a way to make business transactions outside the interference of international governments, but it became clear this week that the space has its limits this week. Over the past couple days, OpenSea, one of the main NFT marketplaces, has been deleting the accounts of users and collectors from Iran, a country that is currently under sanctions from the U.S., with no prior warning or explanation.
Iranian artist Arefeh Norouzii noticed her account had been deplatformed yesterday when one of her followers told her that they had realized that her OpenSea profile was no longer active. Norouzii went to check and also found nothing there—her NFTs had vanished. While Norouzii can mint them again and sell them on other NFT platforms that have are not currently adhering to the U.S. sanctions, OpenSea is the biggest NFT platform, and selling her work on the site has constituted a large part of her income.
“To be honest I’ve been crying all day,” Norouzii wrote in a direct message. “People told me not to worry and gave me hope that this is just a bug. It can’t be a bug, it’s centralization.” Previously, she had sold physical versions of art, but NFTs had changed her life and allowed her to transition to making art full time. Now, she’s uncertain of what the future holds.
Previously, it was thought that the sanctions had only targeted users whose IP addresses pointed to locations within Iran, and several users suggested that blocked users could just use a VPN, which would mask their true location. However, it soon came out that several Iranian artists who live and work outside Iran were also included in the recent deplatforming, simply because they hold Iranian passports. Parin Heidari, an NFT artist who was highlighted by OpenSea as an “amazing women in the space” has been living outside of Iran for the past 13 years, and still found her account terminated.
In a tweet on March 3, OpenSea wrote “We’re a US-based company and comply with US sanctions law, meaning we’re required to block people in places on the US sanctions lists from using OpenSea.” That statement did not explain how broadly it would apply its interpretation of who would qualify as being sanctioned under U.S. law.
When asked for further comment, an OpenSea spokesperson shared the following statement with ARTnews: “OpenSea blocks users and territories on the U.S. sanctions list from using our services—including buying, selling, or transferring NFTs on OpenSea—and our Terms of Service explicitly prohibit sanctioned users or users in sanctioned territories from using our services. We have a zero tolerance policy for the use of our services by sanctioned individuals or entities and people located in sanctioned countries. If we find individuals to be in violation of our sanctions policy, we take swift action to ban the associated accounts.”
This recent wave of deplatforming by OpenSea comes amid increasing global tensions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has caused numerous countries around the world to amplify their sanctions on oligarchs with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Yet it’s unclear why Iranian users, and not other countries on the U.S. sanctions list, were specifically targeted.
The deplatforming has been greatly distressing to members of the NFT and crypto community. “No one wants to see artists caught between governments and politics,” said Farokh Sarmad, founder of the Web3 media company Rug Radio. “This is why we need true decentralization.”
On Twitter, Sarmad has been using his large following to engender discussion on recent events and create support systems for affected artists. “We know OpenSea was forced to do this and sadly I won’t be surprised if more platforms are forced to comply,” he said. “But the NFT space has a lot of money and smart people, I’m sure we can figure this out.”
Others have made the decision to stop using OpenSea in a show of solidarity. “I really can’t justify opensea’s decision now,” wrote NFT influencer Mondoir on Twitter. “They profited from everyone including those people who are now blocked from accessing the platform to become a multi billion dollar company. Their profit came from these very same people. This is not right.”