Iran has blocked messaging app Telegram and photo-sharing platform Instagram in the country. According to Iranian State TV, the government has temporarily blocked the services of these two platforms in a bid to “maintain peace.” Iran has been dealing with an increasing wave of anti-government protests that started a few days ago.
Government officials have accused social media platforms of fueling dissent and emboldening protesters. Iran’s ICT minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi tweeted directly at the founder of Telegram, Pavel Durov, on Saturday claiming that the platform was being used to encourage hateful conduct, armed uprising, use of Molotov cocktails, and social unrest in the country. The ICT minister urged Durov to act and stop such encouragements from going on.
The Telegram confirmed that authorities in Iran had blocked its platform. Durov also noted that it was not clear whether this was a temporary or permanent decision. In response to Jahromi’s tweet, Durov noted that Telegram admins had suspended the channel that the Iranian government pointed out. The messaging app stated that the decision to suspend the channel didn’t come because of the pressure from Tehran but because it had violated Telegram’s terms of service.
The suspended channel is called @amadnews. Durov noted that there was evidence to suggest that the channel was calling on protesters to use Molotov cocktails against the police. Calls for violence are prohibited on Telegram. Durov said that channels that promote violence will be closed regardless of the political affiliations that they stand for.
But this is not the end of it. Durov noted that even though the @amadnews channel was suspended, the admins were able to start a new channel only that this time they are advocating for peaceful ways to air their dissent. The channel also apologized for breaking Telegram’s terms and conditions.
Telegram is one of the biggest social media platforms in Iran. The messaging app has a massive user base there. Last year, app’s founder Pavel Durov confirmed that the app had 40 million users in the country which is almost 50% of Iran’s entire population. There were also 25 million daily users.
Nonetheless, media censorship in Iran is a fact of life. Mainstream news sites and other information sources are blocked in the country. In 2016, the Iranian government started to put pressure on messaging services operating there to move their servers within its borders, sparking fears of privacy breaches. Telegram was reported to have moved some of its servers in the country although the company denied the claims.
In addition to this, admins of various Telegram channels have also been under the radar. The government requires that admins running channels with more than 5,000 members register with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. It’s very difficult for social media platforms and messaging apps to operate under tight regulations in Iran. So far, Telegram has walked the line very well but with increasing unrest in the country, it is likely that a permanent censorship could come sooner than we think.