The Message from Tehran: Nothing To See Here

Fabulist claims have overshadowed directives to shield the population from Coronavirus

As COVID-19 has devastated Iran, officially claiming the lives of 2,378, with analysts estimating the true number to be perhaps ten times greater, Iran has deployed its digital propaganda to, above all else, minimize the crisis.

Over the past 14 days, of the top three stories for each of the ten most prolific actors in our database have concerned COVID-19. Only one of Iran’s did the same. Instead, Iranian media and ministers derided the U.S.’s military actions in Iraq (88 posts) and blasted its extradition of an Iranian citizen in the U.K. (55)

While Iran’s reporting on COVID-19 globally has continued apace (5,214 posts referencing the virus or disease), Iran’s digital properties have asked audiences to view the pandemic through a lens of American duplicity–from American sanctions revealing a callous indifference to fighting the virus (124 posts) to suggestions that the virus is a biological weapon of U.S. origin (100 posts). The sentiment towards the United States in all Iranian COVID-19 related posts was an extreme -0.34 compared to -0.16 and -0.12 for Chinese and Venezuelan equivalents, respectively. Even when targeting a domestic audience, on Iranian social media services Aparat and Soroush, the message focused squarely on the United States, with as many posts discussing coronavirus as a biological weapon as telling the audience to stay at home.

Ayatollah Khameini, in his annual Iranian New Years address, amplified the message floated by his state’s media services for the past several weeks. Rather than focus on the damage the virus has wrought, Khameini berated American “liars, charlatans, and terrorists” for the country’s woes. Audiences responded enthusiastically, with commenters on posts about the address expressing a positive sentiment of +0.18.

Iran’s leadership has consistently sought to minimize the virus, from allowing a funeral procession to military brass who died of COVID-19 to initially inviting more pilgrims to the epicenter in Qom. Iran’s vast digital empire has buttressed this view, spreading a false narrative both at home and abroad.

Ayatollah Khameini, in his annual Iranian New Years address, amplified the message floated by his state’s media services for the past several weeks. Rather than focus on the damage the virus has wrought, Khameini berated American “liars, charlatans, and terrorists” for the country’s woes. Audiences responded enthusiastically, with commenters on posts about the address expressing a positive sentiment of +0.18.

Iran’s leadership has consistently sought to minimize the virus, from allowing a funeral procession to military brass who died of COVID-19 to initially inviting more pilgrims to the epicenter in Qom. Iran’s vast digital empire has buttressed this view, spreading a false narrative both at home and abroad.

Omelas stops the weaponization of the Internet by malicious actors