Sun 14 May 2023 2:38 pm - Jerusalem Time

Iranian messaging applications are proliferating in light of the blocking of the Internet

With WhatsApp and Instagram blocked in Iran under the strict restrictions imposed on the internet, millions of Iranians have turned to local messaging apps such as Ita and Robeca to stay connected on social networks.

In recent months, Iranians have had to adapt to the measures taken by the authorities while preventing them from accessing the two most used applications in the Islamic Republic, after the outbreak of the protest movement following the killing of Mahsa Amini in mid-September after she was arrested for violating the dress code in the Islamic Republic.

Millions of people commented at the time on the girl's death on social networks, and the authorities responded by placing a series of unprecedented barriers and restrictions on the network, condemning "movements by the counter-revolutionaries through social sites."

Authorities have suspended indefinitely access to virtual private networks used by tens of millions of people and many companies.

On the other hand, the authorities encouraged Internet users to switch to Iranian applications supported by the state.

According to figures released by Communications Minister Isa Zarepour at the end of April, about 89 million people use one of the four main applications, Eta, Robeca, Soroush and Bella.

Zaripur, who does not have an account on any of the foreign platforms, warned that WhatsApp and Instagram will not be allowed to resume work unless they have a legal representative in the country.

But Mita, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said it had no plans to set up an office in Iran.

In an effort to attract Internet users, the government has moved some electronic administrative services to national platforms.

New York-based digital security expert Amir Rashidi explained that "users have needs" that push them to use it despite their security and confidentiality concerns.

"If you are Iranian, what do you do if you can only enroll in a university through one of these applications?" he asked.

Kikhchro Heidari Nejad, a 23-year-old developer, explained that he downloaded these platforms "in order to use the services provided by the state and only work on them," but he added, "I only downloaded them on the mobile phone that I do not use daily," noting that they do not involve "a clear policy in terms of secrecy.”

For his part, Mansour Roghani, 65, a retired municipal employee, said that he does not need Iranian applications, explaining, "The topics that interest me and the friends I communicate with are not on Iranian platforms," and therefore, "I rather use Telegram and WhatsApp, and browse Instagram, as my virtual private network allowed me to do so."

In an effort to speed up the transition to local applications, the Ministry of Communications linked four national platforms to allow their users to communicate with each other.

Amir Rashidi said, "The government is trying to link these applications to achieve the maximum possible number of users," noting that the applications will thus receive "financial and technical support."

The authorities are seeking to complete the development of the "Iranian National Information Network" to be a local Internet network that allows national platforms to operate even when access to the global Internet is cut off, according to Zare Pour.

Ali Rashidi believes that the completion of the development of this network will allow the government to "suspend the Internet at the lowest possible cost."

The government's goals are not limited to controlling the Internet, but rather it seeks to protect itself from electronic attacks coming from abroad after being subjected to a number of such attacks in recent decades.


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Iranian messaging applications are proliferating in light of the blocking of the Internet