Iran’s domestic politics and regional ambition have taken strength from the country’s conduct of a defensive foreign strategy through a policy of ‘rhetoric aggression’- a strident security discourse of radical pragmatism projected onto the public square to achieve specific foreign policy gains outside the use of force. The language of rhetoric aggression, constructed in the heat of popular upheaval, emerged as a mechanism first to tie the population together after the experience of authoritarian rule, secondly to protect the Iranian revolution from outside threat - particularly from the Great Satan, and thirdly to project Iran’s Islamic world view as a united community, or ummah, of all Muslims against Western intervention and norms, a worldview it saw itself as leading. Prior to the nuclear deal, Iran’s focus of rhetoric aggression was squarely on the US and was as much a defensive mechanism to protect its self-image from America’s negative representations as an offensive one to project similarly toxic language toward Washington; today rhetoric aggression has found a new theater, the war of words with Saudi Arabia. For almost 40 years, Iran has adeptly utilized the media as an instrument of foreign policy in the absence of direct diplomatic relations with the US. In mediating public opinion, it has capitalized on journalism’s use of drama, framing, and other aspects of information transfer – including online and through social media. This research explores how Iran has mediated its foreign policy instrument of rhetoric aggression to project its power, protect its self-constituted image abroad, deflect attacks on Shi’ism and promote the idea of a strong Islam – and how this mediated discursive economy has differed in the periods before and after the nuclear deal.
In this report, the authors explore the emergence of a host of “non-linear” stratagems aimed at exploiting pre-existing structural vulnerabilities in the liberal world order whilst reducing the likelihood of reprisal or retaliation. Following the end of the Cold War, it was hoped that a more peaceable liberal world order would emerge under the benevolent rulership of American unipolarity. The liberal order sought to gradually transform acts of self-interested transactional cooperation into more enduring loyalties. Non-linear stratagems are simply a variation of this theme, albeit without the anticipated positive externalities. Operating on similar lines to realist international theory, such ploys seek to further the dual objectives of self-interest and state survival in an anarchic global system. This report provides a general theoretical examination of such emerging stratagems, using recent Iranian cyber activities to support the arguments made. To that end, we offer a deeper analysis of the findings partially presented in our recent ARTICLE 19 studies on Iran’s National Internet (published in 2016) as well as a forthcoming publication on Soft War and Iranian Cyber Army.
This report, based on an online survey of Iranian Facebook users, contributes to a small but growing body of scholarship on social and new media use in Iran. Our findings offer new insights into the Iranian Facebook ecosystem, including patterns of Facebook usage among Iranians, why and how Iranians are using Facebook, what types of content they are sharing, as well as perceptions of privacy and security associated with using Facebook. In addition, the survey addresses the key question of whether Facebook is being used as a tool for political engagement and civic activism among Iranian internet users, as initial assessments suggested.
Between 2002 and 2010, the Persian blogosphere—or what is referred to as “Blogestan”—exploded in size and became the topic of numerous reports, essays, videos and books. Global interest in this emerging trend, however, seemed to decrease during the second presidential mandate of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2009- 2013), when online social networking and microblogging became the most discussed and researched IT-related topics, along with the Iranian regime’s policies aimed at deterring online expression. This report is aimed at addressing whether Blogestan itself has faded in size, activity and influence since 2009. We use three parallel methodologies: An audience survey of 165 Persian blog users from inside and outside of Iran; a web crawling analysis of the Iranian blogosphere; and a series of interviews with 20 influential bloggers living outside and inside Iran.
The Iran Media Program conducted a survey of Iranian journalists living and working outside Iran. Our aim was to examine more closely the role and relationship between Iranian reporters abroad and their international and domestic audiences, as well as to broaden our knowledge of the Iranian diaspora media culture. With this report, we hope to contribute new insights regarding the transnational dimensions of Iranian journalism, as well as how Iranian journalists working outside Iran view their roles within and perspectives on the broader Iranian media ecosystem. Our research adds to a growing body of knowledge regarding the dynamics of Iran's domestic media environment and news-consuming public.
Using proxy servers in Iran, researchers Collin Anderson and Nima Nazeri scanned 800,000 Persian language Wikipedia articles. Every blocked article was identified and blocked pages were divided into ten categories to determine the type of content to which state censors are most adverse. In total, 963 blocked articles were found, covering a range of socio-political and sexual content including politics, journalism, the arts, religion, sex, sexuality, and human rights. Censors repeatedly targeted Wikipedia pages about government rivals, minority religious beliefs, and criticisms of the state, officials, and the police. Just under half of the blocked Wiki-pages are biographies, including pages about individuals the authorities have allegedly detained or killed. Based on prior research, it is known that Iran’s Internet filtration relies on blacklists of specifically designated URLs and URL keywords. Keyword filtration blindly blocks pages that contain prohibited character patterns in the URL. Sexual content is the main target of keywords, for example most keywords are sexual and/or profane terms. The researchers found dozens of pages that seem to be unintentionally censored by keyword filtering, meaning that they were misidentified as sexual or profane and contained no content likely to offend Iranian authorities. To view to the Infographic, go to: www.iranmediaresearch.org/wikifiltering
By Farzan Sabet and Roozbeh Safshekan Soft war is ubiquitous today with the way the Islamic Republic of Iran characterizes its relationship with the West, and is a key concern of Iranian national security policy. Few, however, have seriously undertaken the task of defining what soft war is in concrete terms. This analysis proposes a definition of soft war grounded in Joseph Nye’s concept of ‘soft power’ and the history of Iran’s encounter with the West, particularly the United States. In this framework, soft war is the exercise of soft power by the United States on Iran, creating security challenges for the Islamic Republic and forcing the Republic to respond. This analysis not only explores the genealogy of this conflict and how it has unfolded under the Islamic Republic, but also attempts to assess the regime’s strategy in the soft war. This work can be an aid to policymakers, scholars, and others in better understanding soft war and its implications for Iran’s domestic politics and foreign affairs, in addition to U.S.-Iran relations. Download the full report below.
Despite extensive documentation of and attention to direct state pressure on journalists and the almost continual reissuing of “red lines” as a pretense for these media-repressive tactics, little systematic research has been done about the field of journalism in Iran. Beyond direct state repression—harassment, arrests, imprisonment—Iranian journalists face a myriad of regulatory and bureaucratic controls that restrict editorial freedom and the flow of information between journalists and citizens. Yet we know little about how reporters in Iran contend with these challenges on an everyday basis, and in particular outside the context of tightened state controls and crackdowns on journalists during political elections. Hence, there is a need to look “beyond the prison cell” and to examine more closely the everyday operating conditions in which Iranian journalists work, as well as their professional ethics and standards, in order to illustrate a fuller picture of the dynamics of Iran’s media culture. With this report, the Annenberg School for Communication’s Iran Media Program offers—to our knowledge—the first systematic evidence of the working environment of Iranian journalists. It addresses a critical information and research gap regarding the reporting practices of Iranian journalists, their perceptions of editorial freedoms, their ideas of what the media’s role is in society, and the ways in which reporters and editors contend with Internet filtering and censorship. The fundamental aim of this study is to generate a deeper understanding of how Iranian journalists operate both within and despite an environment of heavy state oversight and restrictions, as well as to broaden our perspective of the complexities of media censorship in Iran.