Iranian government officials see the popular messaging app Telegram as a vehicle for anti-establishment dissent and have been trying to convince users to switch over to Soroush, a new app developed in the nation. The app comes equipped with a unique number of emojis, including a woman in a chador holding up a sign proclaiming “death to America,” the BBC reports.
There are also reportedly emoji of women holding up signs wishing death to Israel and the Freemasons, as well as holding a photo of Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. But Soroush has yet to garner the level of interest Telegram has in the country. The homegrown app reportedly has five million users to date, compared to Telegram’s 50 million users.
Like Telegram, Soroush lets users join groups, create channels, follow news, and send files, videos, pictures, and audio. But unlike Telegram, there is less confidence that the Iranian app will safeguard users’ data. According to the BBC, people have been making fun of the app’s three checkmark notifications, joking that the third represents an Iranian intelligence official reading messages. On Telegram, there are only two checkmarks, one to indicate that a message was sent and a second to indicate that it was received.
But people’s skepticism of Soroush hasn’t stopped officials from going to great lengths to try and entice more people to sign up. The Quds Force, a special forces unit of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, reportedly launched a competition that rewards five people with gold coins if they sign up with the app. And Supreme Leader Khamenei shut down his own Telegram channel this week to help “safeguard the national interest” and has since signed up for Soroush.
The push for citizens and government officials to ditch an encrypted messaging app in favor of an app developed in the nation—one now equipped with fun little anti-America stickers—is a push to quiet the channels contributing to anti-authority unrest. And it goes far beyond just cheerleading Soroush. Iran’s National Cyberspace Center recently announced that it will shut down local CDN servers that host Telegram content, which Iranian-Canadian internet researcher Mahsa Alimardani pointed out on Twitter will likely make Telegram usage “slower and more expensive.”
If Iran wants to shut down Telegram entirely, however, it may face some obstacles. Russia’s current effort to block the app isn’t going so hot.