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Iran and the social media paradox

by on October 26, 2013


During the contested elections of 2009, a mass protest broke out in Iran which was known as the ‘Green Revolution’ (also known as the ‘Twitter Revolution’). At the time western media was filled with reports about protesters using Twitter, e-mail, blogs, and text messages to coordinate rallies, share information, and locate compatriots .


Chronological data could be found on Twitter whilst digital images and videos were being reported through external sources outside the regimes net crackdown. The significance of the green revolution cannot be underestimated since it was the first major world event to be broadcast using social media which was able to mobilize approximately three million mainly peaceful demonstrators which a single slogan – ‘Where is my vote?’ . Vast networks of supporters appeared all over the country, connected through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The regime was initially caught off guard and paralyzed but later recovered by unleashing the security forces.

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One of the precipitating factors behind the Green Revolution was an event which occurred through hazard but optimized by web users. The video of Neda Agha Soltan’s death was uploaded a few days after the election results and was aired worldwide by TV channels and subsequently became the symbol of the Green Revolution .

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More recently, Iran has acquired a new president called Hassan Rouhani. He is more adept on public relations and diplomacy than his predecessor and has been attempting to repair relations internally and with countries which are usually classed as enemies. In fact after speaking with Obama on the phone, Rouhani promptly tweeted the event to the world which can be considered a high point in a new and effective public diplomacy campaign which have been waging since Rouhani’s appointment as President in last August.
Politicians usually follow up media events with Tweets, or provide further context to their policies regarding a breaking story. This, may indeed be the first instance of when a world leader has announced such a drastic policy shift on Twitter ever before. In this context this maneuver can be considered a stroke of social media genius. The announcement novelty itself is of major interest because it opened up the message to a whole new audience. It might be expected that people in the US State Department would pick up on the tweet however; entertainment organizations such as Letterman also ran the story . The net result for Iranian public diplomacy in the world and in particular the US was an immediate rising of the Iranian profile and the introduction of Rouhani to a much larger audience.

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The engagement of new audiences across the world may result in profound repercussions for Iranian public diplomacy and could facilitate long term relations with countries such as the US. Twitter may prove to be instrumental to establishing this link because it allows Rouhani to connect with a new generation of westerners. Although it may be difficult to change the hearts of mind of older Americans there is a keen possibility that Iran can sway the younger generations who are more susceptible to new ideas. If talk show hosts such as David Letterman quote Rouhani tweets, Iran seems to be more engaging and less imposing.

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Rouhani has also exchanged tweets with Jack Dorsey , Twitter founder and conversed on a number of important issues and shown an astute use of the tool for the purpose of public diplomacy, rather than reiterating government rhetoric. Although these tweets may not have wiped the Iranian slate clean in America it still may have provided him with the ‘benefit of the doubt’ factor.

By using the same platform as the Green Revolution in such a public manner, Rouhani may be showing a statement of intent i.e. instead of rebuffing Twitter and shying away from it (because it came so close to toppling the previous government), Rouhani and others in the government have adopted the technology and tried to manipulate it for their own gains. Dorsey however did point the two elephants in the room, firstly, Twitter is blocked in Iran and secondly the feed is entirely in English and thus intended mainly for western (if not American) consumption. Although Rouhani responded in his usually diplomatic way, what is of more interest is that in terms of public diplomacy strategy, one country would so explicitly target their efforts towards another. Thus a far more inclusive Iranian diplomacy strategy is being realized which integrates far more actors than ever before and shows a real interest to engage with the average American, something previous leaders of Iran have ignored.
In conclusion, Iran has realized that public diplomacy emphasizes the building of bridges which are built on not only words but deeds. Rouhani’s charm offensive has illustrated the importance of global communications and technologies such as Twitter and how they can be used in public diplomacy, i.e. by shaping the way debates are framed in international relations. Iran has excellently demonstrated how quickly it has been possible to move away from rogue state perceptions to one with a new leader how is willing to negotiate in good faith through effective public diplomacy.


References, 2013.  I ran’s Rohani tweets Rosh Hashana blessing.  Available at: <,7340,L-4426338,00.html&gt;.  Accessed [24 October 2013].


Adlroom, 2012.  رابطه با آمريكا در حال حاضر براي ملت ايران نفعي ندارد.  Available at: <;.  Accessed [24 October 2013].


Rooyeshnews, 2012.  Inflation in May reached 45.1 per cent.  Available at: <;.  Accessed [24 October 2013].


Al-jazeera, 2013.  To resolve the Syria crisis, the US must negotiate with Iran.  Available at: <;.  Accessed [24 October 2013].



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One Comment
  1. Thank you for your thoughts on this subject, which are coherently expressed and nicely illustrated. However, it is not clear how the post relates to the main themes of the module. Apart from a very brief discussion of Rouhani’s social media and PR charm offensive, there is very little else in the post relating to public diplomacy and the evolving nature of global communications. Please work on developing this post to address the issues raised in the literature we have explored on the module before submitting it for assessment in your portfolio.

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