Iran blocks social media apps amid anti-government protests

Getty Images for TechCrunch

Getty Images for TechCrunch

Following the social unrest across Iran, starting on Thursday, the government started blocking access to social networks and messaging apps including Telegram and Instagram, while some controls were also put on Iranians' access to the Internet.

Iran state TV said yesterday that authorities were temporarily blocking the services to "maintain peace", according to the AP news agency. 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.

Mr Durov said calls for violence were prohibited by Telegram and within hours, the channel the minister was referring to - @amadnews - was suspended. "We consider freedom of speech an undeniable human right, and would rather get blocked in a country by its authorities than limit peaceful expression of alternative opinions". Lets see when Iran will unblock both services. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are all blocked.

Telegram - which has an estimated 40 million users in Iran, equivalent to nearly half the population - is believed to have been the main platform people used to obtain and share information about the protests.

Official media coverage has provided few details about the week's protests, which represent the largest show of public dissent since the 2009 Green Revolution.

The protests began in the north-east as an outcry against economic hardship and rising prices, but turned political in many places, with slogans chanted against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mr Rouhani and Iran's interventionist foreign policy in the region. "That means it's more likely that the core of the demonstrators are of a different ilk". In response to Jahromi's tweet, Durov noted that Telegram admins had suspended the channel that the Iranian government pointed out.

Telegram and Instagram were used as communication channels in recent widespread protests.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli has urged people to refrain from joining "illegal gatherings" in the country. "Iranians use it to sell clothes or find doctors, she added".

"We are being censored", he said. I don't know that a 13-minute event defines what's going on there.

However, this surge in popularity has attracted the attention of the Iranian government. He notes the dominance of Mashad by religious hardliners who sought to take advantage of the population's legitimate economic grievances to score points against the Rouhani government, but have lost control of them because of economic grievances. Ahmadinejad has since joined the app.

The decision brought sharp criticism from Iranian cyber-activists, who described Telegram's actions as "capitulation" to state censorship.

In 2011, after Tunisia's success in ousting its leader, Egyptians followed suit, using Twitter to organize mass demonstrations that called for an end to President Hosni Mubarak's rule. 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. It's very hard for social media platforms and messaging apps to operate under tight regulations in Iran. The messaging app has a massive user base there.

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