Social media have played a great role in the growing MEK resistance movement. Since the massive uprising of December 2017, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK Iran) has harnessed the power of social media to spread the news of the regime’s corruption and to organize protests and MEK resistance activities. The regime has responded to this threat to its power by tightening restrictions to online media.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has given instructions to create an “online content committee” by the armed forces in recognition of the role that social media and the Internet have for those who oppose the regime.
#MEK–#Iran: High ranking mullah in Iran calls “free Internet,” evil in order to justify ongoing censorship. He also argued that the regime should “take over the Internet.” https://t.co/0LFLHWcxcd#FreeIran #FreedomOfSpeech #HumanRights
— MEK Iran (Mujahedin-e Khalq) (@MEK_Iran) February 6, 2019
Abolfazi Shekarchi, a cultural deputy of the armed forces, declared that social media and hubs are “battlefields that are still largely dominated by the enemy of the revolution and the Islamic establishment.” Of course, the regime itself uses the internet and social media sites itself to spread its own propaganda.
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) November 7, 2020
“Today, the enemy is trying to use the element of surprise, and meticulously plans its operations. They take advantage of contradictions in remarks made by different officials and use it to compromise public trust and guide the public opinion,” said Shekarchi.
It is a fact that the opposition organizations like the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK Iran) use social media and online hubs to extensively document the regime’s failings, whether these relate to the ongoing pandemic, nuclear missile developments, or its economic mismanagement. The lies of Iranian officials are easily exposed by this form of communication, so it’s not hard to see why the regime would want to control it or close it down from time to time as they did during the November protests last year.
#Iran’s intranet: Design for internet censorship –
HR organizations have expressed concern over the National Information Network plan, saying Iranians will be denied freedom of information and will be cut off from the outside world. #InternetDay https://t.co/UByJmpoJYX
— Iran News Wire (@IranNW) October 30, 2020
The regime’s fear of online “battlefields”
Control over social media by the regime isn’t new. Even back in 2009, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter access were cut off by the regime as protests were widely organized across Iran using these platforms. The sites became “battlefields” more specifically after the largest street protests since the Iranian Revolution itself.
During and after the November 2019 protests, Khamenei said: “You see that over the past two days, the two nights and one day, in which these incidents happened, all of the world’s centers of evil have encouraged these actions against us. [The MEK] are constantly encouraging and inviting people on social networks and elsewhere to conduct these evil acts.”
The concern at the moment is that the regime thinks it needs to bolster its control over Internet access as the anniversary of the November 2019 protests is just over a week away.
— MEK Iran (Mujahedin-e Khalq) (@MEK_Iran) April 17, 2019
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Committee on Security and Counterterrorism released a new report detailing the cyber campaign against the MEK by the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Security and Intelligence (MOIS).
Cyberspace “dominated” by the regime’s “enemy”
“Cyberspace is the prominent phenomenon of the current era, and aside from the opportunities it provides, we can’t neglect its threats,” wrote the mouthpiece of the supreme leader, the Keyhan Daily. “This arena is dominated by the enemy,” Keyhan said on November 5th. “With every passing day, we witness the negative effect of having abandoned non-local social networks such as Instagram.”
The regime would probably like to ban all access to social media sites but is reluctant to do so. It is a quandary as it knows that tech-savvy Iranian youth, at the forefront of those who oppose the mullahs, would find a way around the ban.
#Tehran Press news agency:
“If not 100 percent, the mentality of toppling [the regime], seen very active today in social media platforms, is very much influenced by the literature and terms of overthrowing that is used very vividly by the [PMOI/#MEK].https://t.co/xHc8cxGRqH
— MEK Iran (Mujahedin-e Khalq) (@MEK_Iran) February 26, 2019
The regime, basically, has failed at successfully censoring the mass media. The state-run newspaper, the Sharq, said: “Don’t repeat the failed experience of banning VCRs and satellite dishes. The Majlis should learn from the failed 26-year experience of banning satellite receivers and abandon the idea of censoring social media. The people will find a way to circumvent it.”
These warnings may not be heeded. The regime is at a loss to know how to respond to the growing level of anger and dissent within Iran. Its natural inclination is to use brutal force. It is trying to do the same using the new “cyber police,” even though it knows deep down that it will fail.
The U.S. is sanctioning Mohammad Jahromi for his role in the regime’s widespread internet censorship. The United States stands with the people of Iran in their struggle against an oppressive regime that silences them while arresting and murdering protestors. #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/KMkT7o2nKh
— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) November 22, 2019
A member of Majlis (the regime’s parliament) voiced his concern that the (PMOI / MEK Iran) is effectively countering state propaganda and changing public opinion about the regime. The regime relies on propaganda to prevent widespread rebellion, so this is troubling news for those in power.
“Around 15 percent of the [Iranian regime dissidents] and the (PMOI / MEK Iran) inside the country are active on social media,” he said. “They are spreading disappointing news about the Revolution and the state to influence public opinion.”