Popular app Telegram Censored as Iran Protests Rage On

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.