Panel 3: “Mısınformatıon ın the Mıddle-East”
Old Strategies, New Platforms; Social Media and Iran-US Relations
Since its inception in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has sought to combat an invisible “soft war,” struggling for influence to compete with Western soft power. To this end, Iran has turned to social media to affect geopolitics to its interests. Similarly, Iranian political opposition have sought to leverage social media to rally US policy makers against Iran to secure their strategic agenda. This presentation offers a case study of these dynamics, featuring a social media campaign known as “Iran Regime Change.” It applies social network analysis to two key platforms, Instagram and Twitter, to examine the main actors and their activities. The presentation demonstrates that state and non-state actors strategically seek social media manipulation to influence transnational politics. This struggle for influence in turn perpetuates Iran’s existential fears about social media platforms as the latest conduits of the soft war.
In this talk I will introduce a general framework to make sense of the mechanisms of domestic and foreign policy production in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) by focusing on three overlapping power relationships: between the regime’s guardianship pillar and its republican institutions, between its key political factions, and finally between the IRI and the US governments. Based on this framework, I will then discuss the possible impact of the US’s potential return to the JCPOA on Iran’s upcoming presidential elections and the future of the IRI’s long-term existential security crisis.
Mona Elswa and Mahsa Alimardani
Propaganda Chimera: Unpacking the Iranian Perception Information Operations in the Arab World
Recently, Iranian Information Operations (IOs) have received a lot of scrutiny by social media companies and policymakers. From 2018 to 2020, several accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were taken down by tech companies for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour. Despite the heated relationship between Iran and its neighbouring Sunni countries, the Iranian IOs in the Arabic online sphere has received less attention over the years. This study fills this gap by investigating for the first time the methods, target, and effect of the Iranian IOs in the Arab world. We analyze more than 9.3 million tweets posted from 2008 to 2020 using the datasets shared by Twitter’s Election Integrity Hub. We found that Iran’s IOs have made the Arab world its first target—despite the attention the US claims to receive from them. However, these IOs demonstrate very little engagement and reach amongst Arab users, limiting the possibilities of Iran infiltrating the online Arabic sphere. This study argues that Iran’s IOs garner their power from being perceived as efficient and dangerous operations that could pollute the public sphere of overseas nations, rather than through actual successful infiltration and impact. We understand Iran’s efforts to be preoccupied with old propaganda efforts, through their investment in websites and imitating news websites. However, their proven ineffectiveness shows that Iran adopted the tactics of “new propaganda” that depend on creating a perceived atmosphere of distrust and chaos. We contribute to the discussion on information operations by proposing the term “perception IOs”, referring to the unengaging and weak IOs by governments that aspire to be perceived as a meddling county in foreign politics.