Iranian presidential candidates are competing with each other in use of social media like Facebook and Twitter even though these sites are filtered and generally inaccessible to internet users. One candidate, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran's Mayor, has even defended internet filtering in his campaigns.
Iran has set the stage for countless surreal events over the past years and the presidential election is no exception. On June 14, 2013 Iranians will be free to choose a president from a carefully selected group of candidates who are all near and dear to the Supreme Leader.
The presidential campaign of Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, claims there are over 1,800 blogs that support him. On an interactive map of Iran the blogs are accessible with a simple click, but interestingly some of them – such as Shahid [martyr] Zabuni – have been inactive for a long time and only recently published a photo to support Jalili without any accompanying text. Some blogs even appear to have been created solely for the campaign without a word.
Jalili also uses Twitter, where tweets in English help promote his politics to an international audience:
@DrSaeedJalili: Iran's Int'l politics was one of the most positive approach of Islamic Republic. Others need to adept to this.
Facebook is good for votes, but bad for people
Dr. Ali Akbar Velyati, a former foreign minister and an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, gets the most likes on Facebook among the eight candidates. As a comparison chart by The Brookings Institution shows, he has more than 40,000 likes. His closest rival is Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf with only around 19,000 likes.
Comments on Velyati's Facebook page come from supporters as well as others who seize an opportunity to criticize the internet filtering system. Kollan Nistam wrote [fa]:
[The Islamic Republic] say Facebook is not permitted and is deceiving. Why all of the sudden do you join Facebook to collect votes? Do you think becoming chief [president] makes it acceptable to contradict your own actions? Do not chant slogans. Even you wish to decide what underwear people should wear. You make us nervous in this virtual world, go away.
Instagram, the new kid on the block
All four candidates of the previous presidential election in 2009, including president Mahmoud Ahamdinejad and the two main opposition leaders, Mir Hussein Mousavi, and Mehdi Karroubi used Facebook and Twitter for their campaigns.
This time, two candidates, Saeed Jalili and Mohmmad Baghr Ghalibaf are adding a new tool to the mix: Instagram. Saeed Jalil recently published 33 photos of himself in various meetings and at a university. Ghalibaf uses Instagram to publish text more than photos.
In the previous presidential race, former revolutionary guard leader Mohsen Rezai made the least use of the internet. This time Rezai is back with a more sophisticated social media strategy on Twitter and Facebook. His Facebook page says his campaign film was partly censored where Rezai talks about the problems facing Iranians.