Instagram removed posts last week glorifying dead Iranian terrorist Qassem Soleimani, who was the commander of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force, and the Iranian regime met this with anger and vitriol.
In Keyhan newspaper, the mouthpiece of supreme leader Ali Khamenei, they asked why there was a “media assassination” on Soleimani, seemingly forgetting that Solaimani was behind hundreds of actual assassinations. They also ignored the fact that social media networks do not allow posts that glorify violence and terrorism or their perpetrators and that international platforms do not exist to serve the interests of the Iranian regime.
Keyhan wrote: “Networks such as Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram were supposed to help spread our voices across the world. But now, what we witness is that not only we’re unable to express our condolences to friends across the world and inside Iran, but we can’t even send a simple picture to a person standing one meter away from us. The leaders of Instagram have sanctioned us.”
The paper also fails to note that Telegram and Twitter are banned in Iran, so how can the regime claim that they are being censored when it restricts the Iranian people’s communications?
The regime has a long history of using social media networks to promote its propaganda and undermine the Iranian opposition, but social media has begun to fight back.
In May 2019, Facebook and Twitter suspended accounts linked to an Iran-based social media campaign to sway public opinion by impersonating reporters, politicians, and others, after a tip-off from internet security firm FireEye.
Facebook removed 51 accounts, 36 pages, and seven groups, while Twitter removed 2,800 accounts. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, removed three accounts.
FireEye said in a blog post: "In addition to utilizing fake American personas that espoused both progressive and conservative political stances, some accounts impersonated real American individuals, including a handful of Republican political candidates that ran for House of Representatives seats in 2018."
Back in October 2018, Twitter released 10 million tweets supporting the Iranian regime. Twitter had previously suspended hundreds of Iran-backed accounts for engaging in online manipulation. Just a few months before that, Facebook shut down 652 Iran-backed accounts engaged in misinformation.
Facebook said in a statement: “Today we removed multiple Pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram… We ban this kind of behavior because we want people to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook.”
While Google shut down dozens of YouTube channels linked to an influence operation run by Iran's state broadcaster, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, said: "We identified and terminated a number of accounts linked to the IRIB organization that disguised their connection to this effort, including while sharing English-language political content in the US."
The IRIB is closely tied to the IRGC and other sanctioned entities.