Rouhani doubles down with ‘Digital Economy’ Plan

One of the beneficiaries of the president’s more lenient attitudes toward the internet will certainly be Telegram. The popularity of Telegram in Iran is well known by now. Approximately 40 million Iranians, about half of the population, use the social media app for a wide variety of reasons.

Unlike the closing of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in the 2009 protests, which fewer Iranians used and then only for specific purposes, Telegram is an app that covers a large age group of users for a variety of reasons, from social interaction to news to operating businesses. The shutting of the site at the peak of the protests brought fears that the site would remain indefinitely closed like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube before it.

However, despite their closures and conservative backlash, conservatives have not ignored online platforms and routinely use them. Hard-line cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, who was once dubbed the spiritual adviser of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met and spoke with Iranians online. According to those present for the meeting, Mesbah Yazdi addressed serious and probing questions regarding corruption, problems with the government and conceptions of freedom.

The pictures were shared widely on Twitter and Telegram. The reason for the meeting was not given. Mesbah Yazdi, like most other prominent clerics, often speaks through statements or speeches. Meeting with young online activists, albeit conservative ones, is a testament that while Rouhani is busy trying to catch Iran up to the rest of the world online, conservatives do not want to remain too far behind the president.

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