The latest figures on the use of social networks in Iran was offered through a survey conducted by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), based in Tehran, in December 2015. The 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 the centers of provinces in Iran (56 percent) as well as in second largest 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.
Telegram was rated as the most popular social media. Among people who used at least one social media platform, 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 Telegram users. 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 platforms blocked in the country. But it is still used by many Iranians that access the website thanks to anti-proxy servers. According to Internet World Stats, in June 2016 the users of Facebook were 17.2 million, with a 20.8 percent penetration rate.
Facebook, together with YouTube, also banned in Iran, have been among the means most used by protestors in 2009 to organize the street demonstrations and report about clashes and security forces abuses. They used it 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 of 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 their data servers inside Iran. The UN Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, 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.