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Features

Official Study Reveals the Regime’s Fear of Social Media

December 18, 2020
Behnam Gholipour
5 min read
According to intelligence officials, social networks have an impact in more than a dozen areas, resulting in a threat to national security
According to intelligence officials, social networks have an impact in more than a dozen areas, resulting in a threat to national security
A recent study by a journal linked to the National Defense University asks senior intelligence and security experts about their views on social media
A recent study by a journal linked to the National Defense University asks senior intelligence and security experts about their views on social media
The government has tried for years to control social media, and with it, social behavior. As it has failed, national security has increasingly been under threat, the report finds
The government has tried for years to control social media, and with it, social behavior. As it has failed, national security has increasingly been under threat, the report finds

In a newly published study, a journal affiliated with the National Defense University examines the views held by Iran’s senior intelligence and security experts regarding social media. According to these officials, social media has an impact on national security in 15 distinct areas. Almost all of this impact is negative. Overall, these officials believe that social media threatens, or at least potentially weakens, the national security of the Islamic Republic.

***

Over the last decade or more, Islamic Republic officials have made their views of social media — and how to handle it — clear. In short, Iran’s leadership views social media negatively, often showing a profound misunderstanding of its function and how it is used, to the extent that officials are willing to entertain and promote conspiracy theories about it. Overall, Iranian officials see social media in terms of national security, routinely regarding it as a direct threat.

With the expansion of the internet in Iran and the general popularity of social networks, restrictions and prohibitions on, and barriers against these technologies and communication tools are increasing every day. However, these measures have not been able to prevent the profound impact the social media revolution has had on Iranians, and how they relate to one another and the wider world.

Ruling clerics in Iran say that over the last 20 years, social media has become the most important factor in changing lifestyles, and changing the relationship between the government and its people. They have also seen how social media appears to empower people and influence public opinion, distancing people from religious rulers, and gradually integrating them into global relations.

A macro view of the situation suggests that social media has allowed Iranian people to choose a better way of life, a life that ruling clerics have been suppressing, oppressing and undermining for years.

The unique and powerful possibilities that social media has presented to the Iranian public has caused widespread concern among officials of the Islamic Republic for many years.

 

The Findings

National Security quarterly, affiliated with the National Defense Military University, highlights this concern in its recent issue, entitled "Study of the trends and impact of social networks on national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran".

Views included in the study include those of senior managers at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office, the Supreme National Security Council, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Guards, and several other intelligence and security agencies.

Based on the opinions of these experts and officials, the study highlights “the increasing role of citizenship", "reconstruction of democracy" and "monitoring and control" as internal factors threatening national security in Iran.

The study argues that the blurring of national government boundaries in the information age has resulted in a confused definition of citizenship, and that "the lack of clear and defined positions in the power structure has led to a weakening of social control and the spread of political challenges.

“The government's increasing inability to control the flow of capital and establish a secure society destroys the importance and relevance of the government to ordinary citizens," the study says.

Another part of the study states: "the emergence of crises, the change in citizens' expectations, the realization of citizenship rights as a result of long and exhausting popular struggles, and the increasing sensitivity of public opinion to public policy-making have increasingly burdened the government."

This study cites the expansion of the information society and the growth in communications as factors that increase the power of democracy and put pressure on the "legitimacy and security of states".

"The information age and threats to national security are two sides of the same coin, and as their dimensions expand, sovereignty and national security will also undergo change," the report says.

Experts and senior intelligence and security officials who took part in the study argue that "the growth of social networks reduces the possibility for the government to control and monitor society and the people." They make an explicit link between social media and the threat to national security,

“People’s use of social media will widen the gap between the government and society,” the experts told the authors, adding: “Consumption of social media leads to a violation of the integrity of the government,” putting forth the idea again that the government’s lack of control over its people also means a lack of control over the physical territory of the country and the security of its borders. In turn, these experts and officials say, the government’s control over the economy is also being undermined.

Social media, the report finds, is not only changing people's lifestyles, it has strengthened the work of anti-regime groups, making it possible for them to spread insecurity and increase their support bases.

In total, the article identifies 15 areas relevant to national security on which social media has an impact. In almost every area, it concludes, this impact is negative, resulting in erosion and a weakening of the country’s national security.

The article concludes with suggestions, most important among them the recommendation that the Iranian government and officials strengthen and develop Iran’s “internal” internet.

The authors also call for changes in the law, and urge lawmakers to take decisive action on policy, including increasing the oversight of social media, and cracking down on what they describe as “criminal activity” online.

Such proposals, laws, resolutions, and guidelines have been put forth before, and in many cases, they have been discussed, have been approved and even implemented by think tanks and legislators. But is clear that when these proposals have been adopted into policy, it has not resulted in any significant change. Despite the authors’ recommendations for changes in the law, the suggestion is that the government has failed to control social media, and with it, society. As a result, the report finds, the erosion of national security will continue.

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