A campaign calling Iranians for civil unrest is going viral on social media. EADaily has calculated over 500 messages with #IranRegimeChange hashtags on Twitter at least for today, May 24. The hashtag has become very popular on social media. Blogger SohrabHomayoon says his hashtag was used over 500,000 times overnight. SocialAnalyze blog reports more moderate figures – 75,000 hashtags for May 23. Nevertheless, these figures speak of a large-scale information campaign launched. Oppositionists to the Iranian government use #FreeIran2018 hashtag as well.
Thousands of reports, mostly in English and Farsi, tell about nation-wide strike of truck drivers, for instance on Torbat-e-jam traffic road in Fariman and Tabriz. Social media users post news telling about shortage of petrol due to strikes and protests in Kazeroon, where an activist was allegedly killed and some were detained. Simultaneously, they post images of allegedly ordinary citizens of Iran holding posters or sheets of paper reading “#IranRegimeChange I’m not a robot”.
It is hard to say if this campaign will have any impact on the domestic policy situation in the country. Judging by the tweets, the campaign was launched on May 18. On that very day, Brian Hook, Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State, announced a comprehensive strategy on Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented it on May 21.
Yesterday, Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert said, “Our policy is not regime change; but if the Iranian people were to choose somewhere down the road to make their views known, they’re certainly welcome to do so. But that is not our policy.”
Bloggers supporting Iranian government say most of messages containing #IranRegimeChange come from U.S. Such data were brought for instance by blogger Sam Tamiz in response to statement by Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iranian Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), claiming that many Iranians posted #IranRegimeChange and “ThankYouPompeo” following Mike Pompeo’s statement to show their support to new American strategy. “Many see this as their change to break their chains, put an end to the mullahs’ reign of terror & radical Islamism & join the free world,” FDD research fellow says in a Tweet.
It is hard to identify where most of these calls come from. Access to social media in Iran is limited and many use VPN changing their real location often to U.S., since an overwhelming majority of services is located there.
Nevertheless, Iranian correspondent of NHP TV and Radio Company, former representative of AFP, Ali Noorani is sure that #ThankYouPompeo hashtags do not come from Iran. According to him, Iran has a big society of dissidents who try to speak on behalf of those who live in Iran. In fact, they are far from what the population of Iran wants.
Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) that is actively engaged in #IranRegimeChange campaign is not “an outsider” for the country. Fighting Iran regime is one of the Foundation’s area of activity. One of FDD’s goals is to provide information to the people and political elite about actions of Iran and its allies in Syria and Lebanon. “As Iran continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons, FDD has emerged as one of the most innovative thinks tanks in Washington when it comes to developing effective policies to stop the Islamic Republic before it’s too late. The kind of time-sensitive research, analysis and expertise that FDD provides the Congress is simply invaluable,” FDD cites Former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) as saying.
FDD is known for its Iran Project tracking Iran’s incomes in energy sector and seeking ways to reduce them. In 2011, ThinkProgress published documents related to FDD sponsors for 2001-2004 and arrived at a conclusion that anti-Iranian Foundation is funded by evident pro-Israeli philanthropists who support military intervention in Middle East.
FDD Executive Director Mark Dubowitz published an article in The Wall Street Journal on the very day of Pompeo’s statement. “The Trump administration has declared financial war on the Iranian regime. Given the seriousness of its currency emergency, it’s a good bet America will win,” Dubowitz says in the article.
Iranian pro-governmental bloggers believe Foundation for the Defense of Democracy is one of the ideological centers behind this campaign. In response, they launched another campaign, though not that large-scale, with #wesupportourleader and #shutupPompeo hashtags in English and Farsi.
In the ongoing information war on social media, Tehran is blamed for trying to present anti-Iranian campaigners as supporters of intervention in the country.
Vahid Yücesoy, candidate of political sciences at Montreal University, posted a Tweet saying activists call for civil disobedience like in Tunisia, Syrian and Eastern Europe.
Recall that a series of protests hit Iran in December-January. At first, people were protesting against food prices, then – resignation of president and the religious leader. Protests were the largest since the presidential election of 2009 and took over 20 lives. Tehran blamed U.S. and Israel of instigation. To organize protests, activists used Telegram and Instagram until Tehran limited access to these social media in late December 2017. That is exactly why this time the campaign was launched in Twitter.