On New Years Eve, 2014, Keyhan newspaper made the bold announcement that Google and Facebook are in cahoots with the Green Movement.
As evidence, the publication, which takes orders from the office of the Supreme Leader, pointed to the fact that Google Translate and Facebook both accommodate the Persian language on their platforms.
The article said that, because of this, it was obvious that the world’s biggest internet companies had worked illegally with leaders of the Green Movement.
“Google, the biggest and best-known search engine, created the Persian Google Translate exclusively to support the leaders of the American-Israeli Sedition,” wrote Keyhan’s Editor-in-Chief Hossein Shariatmadari in an editorial in 2009. In the same article, he also attacked a number of other Persian-language satellite television networks.
It is a popular refrain for hardliners, a handy excuse to pull out whenever the need arises. The line goes: the internet and satellite television are enemies of the Islamic Republic. Social networking in particular is anathema to the values so valiantly upheld and promoted by the founders of the Islamic Revolution and its current leaders.
Below, IranWire looks at the range of commentary over the last five years, pulling out some of the most controversial and confrontational statements made by some Iran’s most influential figures. Some of the statements come across as outlandish, while others suggest these politicians and clerics are surprisingly up to date with some of cyberspace’s most debated topics, including privacy. Could it be they gleaned this information from Twitter or online forums and news sites?
“They want to overthrow the Islamic regime using Twitter and Facebook.” — the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Khamenei is the most senior Islamic Republic official to have accused social media of working with the “Sedition” of the disputed 2009 presidential election. “One of these social networks — which could have been used by the Sedition and the seditionists — needed maintenance,” Khamenei said on December 30, 2009. “But the American government asked them to delay the maintenance. They were hoping that through social media and the likes of Twitter and Facebook they would overthrow the Islamic Republic. They lined up these tools to work against the regime of the Islamic Republic.”
“The spread of social networks is a conspiracy by the enemy against the regime.” — The Supreme Leader’s representative to one of the divisions of the Revolutionary Guards
On December 4, 2014, Mohammad-Ali Teymouri, a Khamenei representative assigned to a division of the Revolutionary Guards, said “the spread of social networks among young people is the enemy’s conspiracy in its soft war against the Islamic regime”. He made the statements during a meeting given the unambiguous title of “The Dangers of Satellites for Families.”
“Spreading modes of behavior like dress-style, pre-marital relations, and undoing the foundations of the family through social media, satellites, the internet, Viber, etc., are among some of the enemy’s tactics to promote Western culture through soft war.”
“Facebook and Google are tools for American spying.” —Member of Parliament
“The United States uses cyberspace to spy for its own benefit,” said Mohammad-Hasan Asafari, a hardliner member of parliament who also sits on the National Security Commission. “American politicians have turned the internet into one of the pillars of spying in the world,” he told the parliamentary news agency ICANA.
“By demanding that networks such as Google or Facebook provide information about their users, the American government has demonstrated that it doesn’t respect the privacy of its own citizens and the rest of the people in the world,” he added.
“Satellites are a conspiracy by the enemy.” — Friday Prayers Leader
Conspiracy theories are not confined to officials in Tehran. Ali-Asghar Hosseini, a Friday prayers leader in the small southwestern town of Yasuj, takes a similar outlook on technology and social media. “Satellites are home-wreckers,” he said in a sermon in July 2014. “They’re agents that destroy honor and act as a deadly poison for young people; a conspiracy by the sworn enemies of the system and revolution to harm the national and religious culture of Iran.”
“Gmail is an enemy of the regime.” — Member of the Working Group for Defining Illegal Content
The Working Group for Defining Illegal Content embodies the regime’s paranoia about the internet, and its determination to control and filter it. In 2014, Mohammad-Reza Aghamiri, a member of the group, voiced his doubts about Google in particular.
“Google serves the CIA but claims it is providing a service,” he told the Mehr news site. “Google has raised the banner of animosity toward us, but our approach toward Google has been passive. The internet is an uninvited guest in our country and it must be seriously supervised because it has inundated us with problems.”
“Gatherings organized on Facebook are a complex scheme by the enemy.” — BultanNews website
In summer 2011, a group of young people arranged a gathering at Tehran’s Water and Fire Park via Facebook. After an impromptu water fight broke out, police officers attacked the group. Hardliner media portrayed those arrested in the attack as “fools” who were duped into attending a gathering that had been arranged by “enemies” of the Islamic Republic.
BultanNews was one such news outlet. It called the incident a “elaborate scheme,” while warning that, because of Facebook, similar behavior might spread to other towns and cities.
“The truth is that there is currently an expansion in the soft war [against the Islamic regime], with its cyberspace dimension and its infiltration in the social networks that young people regularly,” it published on its site. “We must take urgent action before it is too late, and before it takes too many victims.”
The website went on to suggest that Green Movement activists organized the gatherings.
“Google+ is a tool for spying.” — The Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture:
Ruhollah Momen-Nasab, the Director of the Internet Unit at the Information Technology and Digital Media Development Center — a subsection of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture — branded Google+ as the US’ latest spy technology. He appealed to Iranians not to use the service.
Momen-Nasab encouraged Iranians to act in the spirit of “promoting virtue and preventing vice” by telling friends to not use Google+. He characterized the service as a prominent example of how people’s social and individual rights could be violated.
“The internet is a dangerous bomb planted in homes.” —Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi:
Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi is the ultimate hardliner — a Holocaust denier, a supporter of the policy that bans women from attending sports events at stadiums, and a proponent of the view that having dogs as pets is part of a Western lifestyle that will lead to “evil outcomes.” He recently told Qom seminary teachers: “the internet is a dangerous bomb planted by the enemy in people’s homes.”
“The internet must be purged,” he said. “So that it won’t threaten young people.” “Young people are the real capital and if they are corrupted, they will vanish.”