Dr. Hassan Rouhani was elected as the new President of Iran this past June. As a moderate politician, Rouhani ran on a campaign of “Government Prudence and Hope” and was able to secure 75% of the electoral vote. One of the campaign promises Rouhani made to the Iranian people was the easing of Internet restrictions. Given that web filters remain in place in Iran, how likely is it for the government to revise its Internet and social media policy while Rouhani is in power? Based on the activity of @HassanRouhani
on twitter, it seems that some type of change is almost inevitable.
While the account still lacks a shiny blue checkmark badge, it is widely believed that the handle @HassanRouhani belongs to the President of Iran and is managed by his close entourage. The account began posting tweets on May 5th, and, for a long time, the page specifically tweeted about progress in his presidential platform. Political and Iran junkies were the ones mostly following his account back then. But then, in early September, his account tweeted about the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and people all over the world became curious about @HassanRouhani. The tweet had a strong, positive reaction and the Iranian President noticed.
Then, last Friday, political history happened. For the first time in 34 years, the Presidents of Iran and the US held a fifteen minute conversation over the telephone. The news went viral on Twitter and details of their conversation were tweeted on President Rouhani’s page. Those tweets were eventually deleted, although the pages of both Rouhani and the White House each posted a #twitpic after the call ended. @HassanRouhani
received more retweets than the @WhiteHouse
. Again, the Iranian President noticed.
While the Iran-US call made history, I argue that another key development unfolded on social media that same day, which, until yesterday, has been largely ignored by political and media analysts.
On the same day of the Iran-US call, something fascinating happened:
@HassanRouhani retweeted the CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo (@dickc):
The next day, the President’s account retweeted Twitter founder Jack Dorsey (@jack
Jack was retweeted again the following the day:
Yesterday, Jack shared a tweet asking @HassanRouhani
if the citizens of Iran were able to see the President’s tweets. According to some reports, this tweet mysteriously “vanished” for a few hours. When it reappeared, this is what happened:
These recent exchanges between the Iranian leadership and the Twitter leadership may actually be shaping the future of Internet and social media use in Iran, one tweet at a time. Curious to know why? Stay tuned for my article in issue #17 of The Social Media Monthly.
Mahsa Hedayati works in the field of international affairs and is a freelance writer for the magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @ma_h_sa.