The latest figures on the use of social networks in Iran are offered by a survey conducted by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), based in Tehran, in December 2015, whose results were published in January 2016 by the English-language Iranian newspaper Financial Tribune. According to this study, 53 percent of Iranians were using at least one type of social media network, with the most popular messaging application being Telegram. The results revealed that social media networks were widely used among populations living in provincial capitals (56 percent ) as well as in second-tier cities (56 percent ) and villages (42 percent ). In Tehran the figure went up to 60 percent. The difference between people with higher and lower education was wide, with 75 percent of Iranians with at least a university degree using at least one type of network, against 39 percent of the population with a high-school or lower degree.
The messaging service Telegram was rated as the most popular social media: Among people using at least one network, 71 percent were Telegram users, and 37.5 percent of the population aged at least 18 years said they were actively using it. It means that at least 20 million people older than 18 were members of Telegram. But since also people under 18 were actively using the messaging application, the overall number of users was well over 20 million. According to the survey, after Telegram, the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp was the second most popular with 26 percent of the population aged 18 or older using the application, while the image-sharing platform Instagram came in third place with 16.6 percent.
Since ISPA and Financial Tribune operate in Iran, under the laws of the Islamic Republic, it is no surprise that they do not mention Facebook, one of the social media blocked in the country, but still used by many Iranians that access the site thanks to anti-filter proxy servers. According to Internet World Stats, in June 2016 the users of Facebook were 17.2 million, with a 20.8 percent penetration.
Facebook, together with YouTube, also banned in Iran, have been among the means most used by demonstrators in 2009 to organise the protests and report about clashes and security forces abuses, by sharing videos captured on mobile phones. The most famous of these videos is the one that shows Neda Agha Soltan shot to death in a street of Tehran during a demonstration.
In the latest move by the authorities to try to establish a full control over the Internet, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, a body whose members are selected by the Supreme Leader, announced in May 2016 new regulations that would require foreign messaging application companies to move data they possess on Iranian users onto servers located inside the country. The UN rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, has stressed “the concerns regarding the security and privacy of users” as a consequence of this decision. “The Council reportedly gave social media companies one year to comply with the new regulations,” Shaheed added.