How one Messaging App is Changing Iranian Media

Telegram groups and channels are mushrooming in Iran, encouraging ordinary Iranians to create channels of their own where they can share news stories with people they choose, and those people’s followers. In several instances, it is unclear who the administrators of Telegram groups and channels are; they, at times, have turned out to be more influential than the licensed media.

Indeed, many of the rumors that are eventually dismissed by official media outlets often have their roots in Telegram. For instance, when several Arab and African countries cut ties with the Islamic Republic after the Jan. 2 attacks on Saudi diplomatic facilities in Iran, a Telegram channel with an unknown administrator broadcast the claim that Tunisia had also severed ties with Iran.

The rumor gained such circulation on Telegram that it even found its way to the government. One source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said, “The rumor about Tunisia severing relations created a challenge for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because a high-ranking official saw the news on Telegram and asked the ministry to provide more details on the matter — all the while we knew that this was only a rumor.”

The real question is perhaps why Iranians are so welcoming of news reported on Telegram. Roya Salehi, a psychologist based in Tehran, told Al-Monitor, “Concerns associated with modern life, low levels of interest in reading and the appeal of odd and controversial stories have steered people toward such news. This is not to mention the absence of the usual restrictions associated with official media outlets that has caused Telegram users to turn to what I call the copy/paste industry.

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