Nearly 22 million Iranians are on social media application Telegram, 15 million of whom are active users, said the secretary of Iran’s Council of Cyberspace.
Abolhassan Firouzabadi added that Iranians are using 112 social networks, each of which has over 10,000 users, Eghtesad News reported.
“Most of these networks are entertainment-oriented, which highlights the need for specialized management,” he said at the First Conference of Social Media Networks: Threats and Potentials.
The conference was organized by the State Welfare Directorate of Fars Province in Shiraz on Dec. 26.
Firouzabadi noted that over 50% of the population spend more than an hour on social media websites daily, while stressing that this has rich potential and could flourish, if properly managed.
“When speaking of the threats in this realm, we must note that imposing limitations and slowing down the progress of these technologies are not an option. On the contrary, we must try to accelerate growth,” he said.
Stressing that the problem in Iran is the one-dimensional focus of social media networks on entertainment, the official said this presents a rich field for research.
“We have failed to localize these technologies; instead, we have only copied foreign versions. This is why social media networks dedicated to educational issues are less acknowledged in the country,” he said.
Firouzabadi said over 23 million Iranians from a population of 78 million use smartphones, which number is forecasted to reach 40 million in the coming years.
Telegram, a messaging and content sharing app, has become popular for communicating and sharing material. Many Iranian state-run news agencies have also embraced the platform, using it to advertise their stories.
Despite this, the issue of filtering the social media platform has for quite some time been on the table. Opponents of Telegram argue that certain entities use the app to undermine some of the top Iranian officials by publishing derogatory material.
In mid-June, Mahmoud Vaezi, minister of communications and information technology, made public comments about the “unethical” sticker packages that had spread on Telegram.
He warned that “legal measures can and will be taken against those who spread such offensive content”.
In June, the private messaging app tweeted that “local network providers are limiting Telegram traffic in Iran. We are trying to find the reasons,” local news website Khabar Online reported at the time.
In response, Vaezi issued a denial on Cloob, another Iranian social networking website.
“We, at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, are well aware of how essential these applications are to everyone, which is precisely why we have spared no efforts to sustain them. By no means do we intend to limit access now,” Vaezi said.
Recently, rumors abounded again that the app may be filtered.
Mohammad Ali Esfanani, a member of Iran’s workgroup for identifying illegal content, issued a statement last week and noted that rumors regarding the smart filtering of Telegram are “unfounded”.
In the last meeting of the workgroup, Esfanani said Telegram’s main servers have been requested to remove unethical content.
What will ultimately become of the social media app remains to be seen.