IranBiden to Inherit Trump’s Aggressive Iran Social Media Campaign

By Michael Lipin

Published 20 January 2021

The incoming Biden administration is inheriting from President Donald Trump an Iran-focused social media campaign that dramatically boosted U.S. engagement with Iranians by sharply criticizing their Islamist rulers, a strategy that President-elect Joe Biden appears set to change. 

The incoming Biden administration is inheriting from President Donald Trump an Iran-focused social media campaign that dramatically boosted U.S. engagement with Iranians by sharply criticizing their Islamist rulers, a strategy that President-elect Joe Biden appears set to change.  

Trump and his State Department used a variety of social media channels, messaging techniques and languages to exert what they called “maximum pressure” on Iran’s ruling clerics to stop perceived malign behaviors.  

One dividend of that strategy was a huge increase in audience for the State Department’s Farsi-language Instagram account, according to Gabriel Noronha, who ran its Farsi social media channels from late 2019 to late 2020. In a recent interview with VOA Persian, Noronha said the department’s USAdarFarsi (USA in Farsi) Instagram account grew its followers from 147,000 in January 2019 to 759,000 in January 2021, a more than five-fold increase in a two-year period.  

The USAdarFarsi Facebook and Twitter  channels also have more than 700,000 followers.  

Noronha said most engagement for the USAdarFarsi Instagram account comes from inside Iran where Instagram is the only major Western-run social media platform that Iranians can access freely. Facebook and Twitter are blocked by the Iranian government, leaving them accessible only to tech-savvy Iranians using virtual private networks.  

Noronha said VPNs, which hide a user’s true location, make it hard for the State Department to determine how much traffic for its Persian Facebook and Twitter accounts comes from inside Iran versus from the Iranian diaspora. “For the USAdarFarsi Twitter account, I’d say about half of our traffic comes from Iran and the other half from the U.S. and Europe,” Noronha said. “The Facebook account is somewhere between Twitter and Instagram (in terms of the amount of traffic that comes from Iran),” he added.  

The types of posts that got the most engagement on the USAdarFarsi accounts had three main themes, according to Noronha.  

“Iranian social media users were most appreciative when we posted messages that supported their denunciations of the Iranian regime for imprisoning and executing rights activists, that endorsed their calls for anti-government protests and that celebrated Iranian cultural traditions pre-dating the nation’s 1979 Islamic Revolution,” he said. Iran’s post-revolution clerical rulers have discouraged the observance of popular festivals and other cultural practices that they see as inconsistent with their fundamentalist view of Islam.  

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