Something about the newest social network to hit Uzbekistan looks strangely familiar. Perhaps it’s the blue-and-gray color scheme, or the simple, spare font, or that slogan, “It’s free and always will be” -- the same phrase emblazoned on the Facebook login page.
YouFace, a newly launched website for Uzbeks to mingle online, looks a bit like Facebook “at first sight,” its owner told Uzbek media, but will be changed once it picks up steam.
“It is not similar [to] Facebook, but just looks like that,” Ayyub Abdulloh told Eurasianet.org. Cars have similar features to create “comfort for drivers,” so “websites must be comfortable too,” he said.
The name may sound like a parody, and it actually has been one: “YouFace” is the same name used by the NBC sitcom "30 Rock" in an episode poking fun at social networking two and a half years ago.
The website does have one big difference from the iconic Facebook look: The main page includes a quote from longtime President Islam Karimov, which translates to “Our children must be stronger, smarter, and happier than we are,” according to a GlobalVoices blogger from Uzbekistan.
This is the second social network launched in Uzbekistan to lure Internet users away from Facebook or its Western ilk. Last year the government launched Muloqot, a site that required a cell phone number. Abdulloh declined to tell Eurasianet.org who funds his site.
Internet freedom advocates fear that the websites are meant to ease government monitoring of what Uzbeks are saying online. Uzbekistan enshrines freedom of speech in its constitution, but watchdog groups say the former Soviet republic blocks websites critical of the government. Human rights groups condemn the government for its record of torture and persecution.
YouFace has emerged as restrictions on cyberspace are increasing: The Expert Working Group, a Tashkent-based human rights group, recently claimed that Uzbek authorities have tightened their control of Internet usage this year and even forced students out of Internet cafes.
Radio Free Europe found that when it tried to post information from its Uzbek Service to YouFace in May, it was deleted. Abdulloh has billed the website as “patriotic.”
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A screen grab of Youface.uz, an Uzbek social networking website.