Nevertheless, in today’s environment, there is the internet, and more specifically social media, and this poses a challenge to Iran’s security forces.
In an attempt to stifle use of the Internet and social media, the Iranian government established a cyber-police force, who are policing the internet and social media.
The cyber-police website published an article in which the chief of cyber police reveals the increase in cyber crimes. In past years, he spoke about crackdowns on ‘moral crimes’, meaning pornography, but this year he talked about social media, singling out Telegram, which is a cloud-based instant messaging service, and Instagram, a service on which photos and videos may be shared. He claimed that these services are involved in nearly two-thirds of the cyber crimes that have been investigated and prosecuted.
The focus on Telegram may reflect fear that politicians and civil society leaders may turn to social media to organize against leadership’s status quo. Six administrators for reform-minded chat channels on Telegram were recently arrested by Iranian police.
According to an Iran Labor News Agency, who published an excerpted interview with Telegram’s lawyer, the judiciary subsequently released the six administrators on bail. This is believed to be part of a larger behind-the-scenes fight over government control and access to social media.
In fact, on 26 July, Iran’s Public Prosecutor Deputy for cyberspace affairs threatened to bring charges against the Minister of Communications if he did not take stronger action to block social media “with criminal content.” A few days later, it was reported by the Iranian press that Telegram moved its servers into Iran in a compromise that allowed it to continue to operate, but give Iranian police greater access to monitor the platform.
However, Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, denied this report in a tweet. He said that the company had not transferred any servers into Iran. Still, the Iranian people may not see Durov’s denial, because cyber-police chief Hadianfar reaffirmed Iran’s ban on Twitter.
Recent events suggest that, although the Iranian police and security forces have been hunting for terror cells, policing women’s clothing, preventing drug trafficking and alcohol consumption, and breaking up mixed gender parties for decades, social media and the Iranian government’s ability to to monitor and control it, may have become a greater concern for them.