As the government tightens internet restrictions for security reasons in response to months of protests, Iranians have little choice but to use state-sponsored alternatives, as they are prohibited from using popular Western applications.
Iranians are acclimated to using virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent restrictions and access restricted websites or applications, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which are owned by the United States.
During the protests that erupted after the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for an alleged violation of the Islamic Republic’s dress code for women, the government went so far as to completely shut down the internet.
Even tech-savvy citizens are being coerced into using government-approved applications, such as Neshan for navigation and Snapp! for hailing a taxi.
Bale, Ita, Rubika, and Soroush have 89 million users, according to the Iranian government. But not everyone is eager to make the transition.
“My topics and friends are not available on Iranian platforms,” claimed Tehran resident Mansour Roghani.
“I use Telegram and WhatsApp, and if my VPN still permits it. I’ll check Instagram,” the former municipal worker said, adding that he has not installed domestic apps as substitutes.
The Iranian government disabled Instagram and WhatsApp during the deadly Amini riots in October.
Last month, Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour stated, “No one wants to limit the Internet. And we can have international platforms” if foreign companies agree to introduce representative offices in Iran.
The American company that owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp will not open offices in Iran, which remains under US sanctions.