Iran Moves To Block Social Media Apps, Mobile Networks As Protests Spread

Roohollah Zam an exiled Iranian journalist has been using his news channel on app Telegram to help organise protests and spread news of the marches

Roohollah Zam an exiled Iranian journalist has been using his news channel on app Telegram to help organise protests and spread news of the marches

The Iranian government's anxiety over the widespread protests that have roiled the country for the past week may be best shown by one action: the government's decision to censor Telegram, the most popular foreign messaging app still being used by average Iranians. Describing the activities of Instagram and Telegram as "legitimate avenues for communication", Goldstein called on Iranian authorities to restore the services of the two social networking apps. Last year, app's founder Pavel Durov confirmed that the app had 40 million users in the country which is nearly 50% of Iran's entire population. The Telegram mobile phone app, created by Russian Pavel Durov, has been shut down by Durov at Iran's request because Iranian agitators in exile were using it to push violence.

The rules of @telegram prohibit calls for violence and hate speech. Durov said in a blog post that the company "would rather get blocked in a country by its authorities than limit peaceful expression of alternative opinions". The government's decision on putting controls on the Internet access and messaging apps, under such conditions, has unfortunately exacerbated the economic conditions of virtual Iranian businesses.

One of the biggest anti-government protests Iran has witnessed since 2009 continues to rage on well into the fifth day.

As Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi announced on Monday "the restricted access to social networks in Iran amid ongoing protests against the government's economic and social policies is a temporary measure and rumors about the permanent closure of the social networks do not correspond to the reality". Iranian officials have filed criminal charges against me back in September for letting Telegram spread "uncensored news" and "extremist propaganda". And with independent media coverage from inside the country limited at best, social media has played a crucial role for numerous protesters, largely believed to be young people adept at social media.

While apps like Telegram and Signal are now blocked by the Iranian authorities, WhatsApp remains fully accessible in Iran. Lets see when Iran will unblock both services.

Iran's government has also been targeting Telegram channel administrators - issuing a requirement that admins of channels with more than 5,000 members register with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Iranian-American Middle East analyst Holly Dagres said access to VPNs, which are easily bought at shops, aren't necessarily safe from the government's gaze. In countries where they are otherwise banned, messaging apps that encrypt conversations often use the Google App Engine to hide their activity within Google's traffic. But jailbroken phones and apps can not be updated, leaving their users open to hackers and government monitors that take advantage of bugs in outdated software.

The Chinese government, which maintains strict controls over the internet and social media, blocked mainland access to Instagram and posts related to the demonstrations on popular Chinese messaging sites like Weibo and Wechat. "Even in working hours, internet is not really that normal".

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