However, the Iranian people are resourceful. They are able to evade the restrictions through the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) that redirect internet addresses, and bypasses local blocks.
While ordinary Iranians may face jail time for using them, regime officials use banned social media apps like Twitter to communicate to the outside world. For example, President Hassan Rouhani’s own Instagram account has over two million followers. Even Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has an official Twitter account.
The regime has targeted individual Iranians with high-profile Instagram followings. By blocking Instagram, the regime has removed the last major social media account still active in Iran.
The regime cited “national security” concerns, but many believe that Instagram stories have become a sore spot for the regime. Harmless acts, such as Iranian women defying edicts and riding bicycles in public became fodder for Instagram photos. And while a regime TV special showed the women all tearfully repenting their actions, many called them coerced confessions.
A growing problem for the regime is the widening age gap in Iranian society, and the technological savvy of Iran’s young people. At least half of Iran’s 82 million people are under 35 years old, and almost 40 percent are under the age of 24.
Iranians and dissident groups use social media to share images and videos of protests and crackdowns within their country. This explains the effort to repress social media — it prevents the flow of information from, as well as within, Iran. But still, while Twitter has been banned, it continues to be used, especially recently, when ongoing protests over a bus crash at Tehran’s Azad University killing were shown in a video on Twitter.
The regime’s efforts to eliminate social media will fuel greater ingenuity by the Iranian people. They will engineer new ways to sidestep the restrictions. The Iranian regime’s ban on social media will highlight the growing disparity in the demographics that will be a significant political problem for them in the future.