Biden to Inherit Trump’s Aggressive Iran Social Media Campaign

The incoming Biden administration is inheriting from President Donald Trump an Iran-focused social media campaign that dramatically boosted U.S. engagement with Iranians by sharply criticizing their Islamist rulers, a strategy that President-elect Joe Biden appears set to change.  Trump and his State Department used a variety of social media channels, messaging techniques and languages to exert what they called “maximum pressure” on Iran’s ruling clerics to stop perceived malign behaviors.  One dividend of that strategy was a huge increase in audience for the State Department’s Screen grab of President Donald Trump’s second and most liked Farsi-language tweet posted on Jan. 11, 2020.Trump’s January 11, 2020 Farsi tweet angered Iran’s then-Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, who responded the next day by tweeting : “Hands and tongues smeared with threatening, sanctioning and terrorizing the #Iranian nation, are not entitled to dishonor the ancient #Persian_language.”   Hands and tongues smeared with threatening, sanctioning and terrorizing the Screen grab of meme posted by President Donald Trump on his Twitter account on Nov. 2, 2018.The text of the meme used a font popularized by American fantasy drama TV series Game of Thrones to highlight Trump’s imminent restoration of U.S. sanctions against Iran after he withdrew earlier in the year from a 2015 deal in which world powers offered Iran sanctions relief in return for limits on its nuclear program. Trump said the deal did not do enough to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, a goal Tehran denies having.  Nazenin Ansari, managing editor of Iranian news websites Kayhan London and Kayhan Life, told VOA Persian the Trump administration’s social media outreach to Iranians built on Farsi social media channels that were created under the previous administration of Barack Obama. “The Trump administration’s social media messaging on Iran checked all the boxes by highlighting the Iranian public’s grievances with the malign policy choices of the Islamic Republic,” she said.  In a message to VOA Persian, Atlantic Council senior fellow Holly Dagres said she observed that some Iranian users of the Telegram messaging app were dismissive of Trump’s tweets about Iran, mocking him for the Game of Thrones-style meme and accusing him of double standards for criticizing Iran’s crackdowns on protests while tolerating what they viewed as harsh U.S. police treatment of some Americans who protested racial inequalities in the country last year.  Dagres also said the incoming Biden administration is likely to take a different approach to using Twitter for its Iran messaging. “It won’t be angry tweets that threaten war or retweets of dubious accounts that tow the administration line. People will expect Biden’s tweets to be more measured and to project soft power, such as by wishing Iranians a happy new year,” she said.  FILE – President Donald Trump shows a signed Presidential Memorandum after delivering a statement on the Iran nuclear deal from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, May 8, 2018.Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow Alireza Nader told VOA Persian he fears the Biden administration will be so concerned about reviving the nuclear deal that it neglects to use social media to highlight human rights abuses in Iran.  “If the Biden administration wants to adopt a less aggressive posture toward Iran, they should at least use the social media tools that have already been developed to maintain communication with the people of Iran and show it cares about them,” Nader said.  This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. 

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