In another sign that the regime is concerned over the use of ‘foreign’ social media outlets, the office of President Rouhani announced a few days ago that it will close the President’s official Telegram-account.
This came on the heels of a similar announcement from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that his office “would no longer use Telegram to “safeguard” Iran’s national security and “remove the monopoly of Telegram messenger”. He also urged his followers to use domestic apps instead of foreign ones.
Consequently, several official agencies and politicians said they would do the same.
What’s noteworthy in all this is the fact that Telegram is the most popular messenger app in Iran and used by half the population of 80 million.
This is, however, more than just another attempt by the regime to control social media. President Rouhani – who is under increasing pressure from the hardliners in the IRGC as well as the Supreme Leader – was against blocking Telegram, but had to concede when Khamenei stepped in and announced the ban. So this latest flare-up between Rouhani and the IRGC and the Supreme Leader, clearly shows that it’s the hard-liners that have the upper hand in the domestic power struggle and that Khamenei has sided with Rouhani’s political enemies.
Furthermore, the Iranian move came after Russia announced a ban of Telegram because the company refused to share its data with the Russian government. The same conditions were laid down by Teheran; all foreign messenger apps must have their servers inside Iran, or they would lose the right to operate in the country, a demand obviously unacceptable for the companies.
All this is of course another step in trying to strangle the opposition inside Iran. The events especially around New Year – with a multitude of protests around the country – haven’t completely died down and the regime does feel the pressure. Filtering and monitoring foreign messenger apps, if not outright controlling them, is part of this ongoing process of beating back any opposition to the regime.