Middle East Fellow Ariane Tabatabai spoke to Newsy about how Iran is using its social media presence to spread messages about the U.S.’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic and racial justice protests.
For years, Iran has been ramping up its online influence operations. Now, that social media presence is being used to spread messages about the U.S.’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial justice. Some of it is false. Some of it is just unflattering to the U.S.
“One of the key narratives that Iranian officials, Iranian accounts started to push was that U.S. sanctions were the reason why Iran was unable to sort of handle the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Ariane Tabatabai, who tracks social media activity from Iran. “There is some truth, and that’s something that rights groups have said for a while. But, the way that the Iranians were presenting it has kind of gone into the disinformation realm quite a bit.”
Tabatabai says one of Iran’s motives in spreading these COVID-19 narratives is to push back against sanctions by appealing to European audiences. Twitter and Facebook are effectively banned in Iran, but not in Europe, where some countries still have power to offset U.S. sanctions.