For more than a week, ongoing protests in Iran have disrupted most major urban areas, from the capital Tehran to Mashahad in eastern Iran.
According to a Slate magazine interview with Carnegie Endowment Middle East and Iran policy analyst Karim Sadjadpour, the protests focus on economic and political frustrations with the Rouhani government. A main source of frustration is that the sanctions lifted in 2016 as a result of the Iran nuclear deal did not deliver the promised economic growth.
President Donald Trump spoke in solidarity with the Iranian protesters and have condemned the Iranian government’s repressive policies.
Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 1, 2018
Along with Donald Trump, Reza Pahlavi, heir to the Iranian monarchy that was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic revolution that initiated the current regime, tweeted statements supporting the protests.
— Reza Pahlavi (@PahlaviReza) December 30, 2017
Most western news outlets have supported the protesters in Iran, and have reported the role technology has played in organizing the protests.
Telegram has been singled out in reporting because of its status in Iran as a way to communicate online relatively removed from Iranian internet censorship. Mahsa Alimardani, Iran editor for Global Voices, wrote in Politico about the role that Telegram plays in Iran due to its prevalence and previous lack of censorship.
She writes that Telegram has to be held accountable to its users, especially after AmadNews, a popular public Telegram channel in Iran, was shut down this week at the request of the Iranian government.
BBC also confirmed on December 31, 2017 that the Iranian government restricted Instagram and Telegram to minimize social disorder. According to the news outlet, 50 percent of Iranians are active on Telegram.
CEO of Telegram Pavel Durov tweeted his opposition to the restriction on the same day. Additionally, many of his recent tweets focus on the situation in Iran, even providing examples of other services to use in light of the blocking, such as WhatsApp.
Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down https://t.co/9E4kXZYcP9 and other peacefully protesting channels.
— Pavel Durov (@durov) December 31, 2017
While apps like Telegram and Signal are currently blocked by the Iranian authorities, WhatsApp remains fully accessible in Iran.
— Pavel Durov (@durov) January 2, 2018
TechCrunch corroborates that Telegram and Instagram are being restricted in Iran because of the protests. The outlet states that this is not the first time Telegram has been targeted in Iran. For example, channels in Iran with more than 5,000 members must register with Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. BBC also reports that the average Telegram user in Iran is a part of 18 or more public groups that have 5,000 or more members.
Edward Snowden has also been tweeting mixed statements about Telegram. Snowden stated that while Telegram has a unique situation in Iran, it is not doing enough to stand up against Iranian censorship because it is not fighting back against the government.
Many don't seem to understand why I object to @Telegram having unsafe, censorable public channels in an app that is promoted as a secure messenger. Some presumed I just don't understand how channels work. So let's talk about it:
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) December 30, 2017
According to the New York Times, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed foreign enemies for the anti-government protests that occurred. To add fuel to the fire, the US State Department suggested that the Iranian government should not block social media this week. This can be seen as protecting the civil liberties of Iranians, but Khamenei has used this to make the case that foreign governments are taking a side.
The protests proved again that while social media is a powerful tool for organizing protests, it is a tool that can easily be repressed.