By now, nearly every Iran watcher in the world knows that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has an active Facebook page, that it has over a 100,000 Likes, and that following his posts is a daily ritual as important as BBC Persian.
Zarif announced this week that he would soon start tweeting regularly, but it appears he will not be embracing Instragram anytime soon. Indeed, he took to Facebook today to deny that he had an official Instagram page at all, as some Iranian users had discovered a Zarif identity on the photo-sharing site, and had begun buzzing about its pictures and shares.
The fake Instagram account [http://instagram.com/javadzarif ], which claimed to be official, began drawing attention because of two specific accounts that Dr. Zarif was surprisingly following. One was the account of Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Green movement leader Mir Hussein Mousavi, and the second the account of Kaleme News, considered an opposition news website and affiliated with Mousavi and the Green Movement. The debate regarding the authenticity of Zarif’ Instagram account needed to be addressed by Zarif directly since it was only weeks ago during the cabinet confirmation process when Parliament declared, “Sedition is the red-line” when reviewing cabinet nominees, referring to those who supported the 2009 uprising. http://www.tasnimnews.com/Home/Single/123146
Although Instagram gained popularity during the run-up to this summer’s presidential election, with candidates such as Haddad Adel and Saeed Jalili creating offical accounts, Zarif apparently seeks Twitter a more useful network for sharing his views and news. In the status update where he repudiated the fake Instagram account, he revealed his new Twitter username: https://twitter.com/JZarif. Shortly after, President Hassan Rouhani used his Twitter account to tweet that “Though he's still learning abt [sic] tweeting, join me in welcoming Foreign Minister @JZarif to Twitter.” https://twitter.com/HassanRouhani As of late Monday afternoon, Zarif has over 700 followers and is currently not following anyone back.
The excitement surrounding Zarif’s Facebook account seems to grow by the day. Each post or status update is constantly shared, commented on via Facebook, and tweeted about via Twitter. Even grumpy Iranian intellectuals, who find it unseemly to get excited about anything political related to the Islamic Republic, are sharing and liking.
Earlier today, Zarif posted an illustrated picture that has already received over 16,000 Likes, almost 2,000 comments and has been “shared” over 618 times. The picture is titled “The First Supper,” from the cover of the Iranian magazine "Khat-Khati," and it depicts President Rouhani's cabinet being stuck with a giant dinner bill left by presumably the former Ahmadinejad administration. Rouhani’s cabinet looks upset as they debate how to deal with the bill, and all that is left of the first supper is crumbs, little pieces of bread, bare bones, and spilt drinks. The Rouhani cabinet has not been shy about criticizing the former president, but this posting is quite the political statement given that the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei recently said that there was nothing wrong with the economic policy of the former (Ahmadinejad) government.
Iranwire reached out to Iranian social networking activist Vahid Online to explain the frenzy around Zarif's social media presence. “Mr. Zarif uses his own fingers to hit the keyboard,” he says, noting that most Iranian officials with a Facebook presence delegate posts to staffers, making it, for the purposes of the social networking world, not really their own. Some officials, he says, are actually active themselves, but because of the restrictive political climate in Iran, they claim their pages were created by supporters and run by them. Either way, Zarif's authentic, official presence marks the “first time a political figure at this level is personally and directly involved in social networking.”
Because Iranian authorities have claimed Facebook is an intelligence gathering tool of Iran's enemies, use filters to block the site, and even used social media data as evidence in prosecuting those detained in the wake of the 2009 protests, Zarif's Facebook presence sends a wider political message, Vahid says. “People have gotten used to the government's stance on Facebook, and now they're hoping that with the presence of the foreign minister, the site will become unfiltered.”
With the addition of @Jzarif, the foreign minister's social media presence will continue to grow and gain popularity, but it remains to be seen whether it will encourage the Iranian authorities to stop filtering Facebook. Some will certainly claim that Zarif's Facebook page is intended for propaganda purposes, but one thing is certain: the creation of these accounts have established an opportunity for unprecedented dialogue and conversation between a senior Iranian government official and the Iranian people. This is Zarif’s mission objective, as is apparent in his first personal note that he wrote on his Facebook account.
On August 16th, a day after the Iranian Parliament confirmed Zarif to the position of foreign minister, Zarif posted a welcoming note on his Facebook page that was “Liked” by over 15,500 people, and received almost 2,400 comments. In addition, 677 Facebook followers of the new Iranian Foreign Minister shared the note with their Facebook friends. An extract of the note, written in Persian, reads:
“I will make an effort to stay in communication with you and I hope with the help of this page, the Foreign Ministry website as well as other means, I can keep you up to date with reports and information. To all of my wise and respectful friends who visit this page and interact with it, I sincerely ask and expect you to not use this page for sarcastic comments, God forbid insulting other individuals, groups, parties, different ethnicities, or different religions. Also please refrain from political commentary and points of view which hurt other people as this takes away for this opportunity for dialogue and conversation. I hope for your guidance and goodwill prayers.”