Iran, the Social Media Nation That Belongs to Its 70% of Population

An article in 2015 has mentioned that the Iranian president can use social media better than any other presidents in the world (before Trump). Indeed, Iran might have been a secluded country that was heavily burdened by international sanction, but this does not prevent her from being the number one internet country in the Middle East. 

Photo of Tehran from Zhu The Girl Studio

Iran has 81-million of population, among 73-million of who are using the internet, making the internet penetration rate to reach 88.9%*. In comparison, the internet penetration rate in the US is 75.2% and the one in China is 55.8%. The reasons for Iran’s advantage are actually simple. First, the government has devoted considerable energy in building infrastructure for digital, engineering, and technology use. Because of the sanction from the West, Iran was able to focus on building its system. After 2014, its “international (despite still under government scrutiny)” internet bandwidth has exploded exponentially, seen from the graph. Second, there are more than 70% of the Iranians under age of 35. It is an obvious cliché to say that young generation fairs with social media way better than the previous one. Despite of the sanctions from the international society and government strong hand, the filtered Facebook still finds 42% of the penetration rate. Certain open tools such as Instagram has 48 million Iranian users. Lastly, the almost unstoppable coming of the internet era in the world swept through almost every corner of our shared planet. In where information tends to be limited, social media is a key tool to access, share, and organise information. 

Iranian International Internet Bandwidth Capacity 
@Techrasa
  1. Social Media and Emerging Industries

Except for the oil industry and other various heavy industries, Iran has two large emerging industries: technology (engineering) and digital retailing. Similar to most of the fashion brands and practitioners, Iranians also use Instagram and Telegram to post high-shots of models, share discounts with the group, and galvanise the active fans into paying customers. In most of the cities in Iran, there aren’t many colourful designer shops on the street. If customers want to purchase discerning clothes, they tend to amass over shopping malls or private custom studios. Top design studios in Tehran all own private Instagram or Telegram accounts to tweet contents to fans. If a fan wants to purchase garments, she will have to book an appointment time to try samples at the studio office. Because restrictions or conservative cultures on the street, the almost female-centric fashion industry relies largely on social media. Brands call forth 100k-600k of fans on social media, which enable them to become power players in the Instagram world. Tech Cruch states that 39% of the Iranians shop on the internet at least once a month and 11% of the Iranians do digital purchase weekly. In comparison with influential digital commerce countries such as the US and China, this number may not seem high. However, in the relatively way more segregated Iran, such number has shown sizeable potentials to a fledgling industry. 

On the case of new technology, in 2002, tech has already contributed 1.3% of the Iranian GDP. Today, despite of the international blocking of resources, Iranians have outnumbered global average in the number of intellectuals in STEM, especially for the count of female engineers. For engineers, being able to participate in the vibrant start-up scene in Tehran has been a key for successes. Projects showcase their different and international ambition through social media. Many of the members in the community are younger generation, which has also drawn sharp contrast to the oil and government oligopolies and dynasties. 

2. The Escape from Gender Imbalance – Sports Traction and Insta-models

After 1979, the theocratic government began strict scrutiny in the country (despite the Western-friendly Shah had also been executing unbreathable scrutiny but censored on the conservative side so he was liberal on pro-Western contents). In the multimillion Iranian sports field, the official network does not share female sports that have non-hijabed players. A few of the only sports that allow national observation include the fully hijabed football. However, mishaps happen. For example, one Bundesliga, which enjoys fervent popularity in the world and in Iran, was blocked out of Iran this year because the referee was a female (and did not wear hijab since she is German working on German grounds). 

The football lovers shared the common knowledge that Iranian football has been one of the tops in Asia; its official sports channel Varzesh takes in millions of revenues by rebroadcasting major football events. However, females and female football stars have shared only the nickels of this extremely lucrative industry. In this case, fans have to route around in social media to watch or support their teams and stars. On a small note, certain networks such as varzesh_banovan and footlady have gained 190k of audience. 

Similarly, male businessmen, politicians, and football players have been wowed officially. Actresses, business women, and female football stars have gained way less tractions, below their international peers. For them, official channels can be stalling, as they have to look “proper” with hijabs on these channels and avoid behaving in the “filthy” Western manner. Kim Kardashian style is officially disapproved in Iran, despite of large unofficial followings to celebrate her body liberty. To find more information, including body image, swimsuit takes, half nude or fully nude polaroid, and party pictures, fans have to seek them out from the unofficial social media. Iranian fans come with certain characteristics: big fan base and aflame power to attack; despite of the sanctions, countless use VPN to get on other internets. For example, in the last World Cup, the Iranian goalkeeper Beiravand saved a penalty shoot from Cristian Ronaldo. Within hours, Ronaldo’s Tweeter account was flooded with comments from Iranian fans. Similarly, Iranian Insta-models or celebrities that have Iranian lineage have well used the power of social media to depict another world different from what’s been boasted conventionally. 

Cr: @YouTube

After 1979, the theocratic government began strict scrutiny in the country (despite the Western-friendly Shah had also been executing unbreathable scrutiny but censored on the conservative side so he was liberal on pro-Western contents). In the multimillion Iranian sports field, the official network does not share female sports that have non-hijabed players. A few of the only sports that allow national observation include the fully hijabed football. However, mishaps happen. For example, one Bundesliga, which enjoys fervent popularity in the world and in Iran, was blocked out of Iran this year because the referee was a female (and did not wear hijab since she is German working on German grounds). 

The football lovers shared the common knowledge that Iranian football has been one of the tops in Asia; its official sports channel Varzesh takes in millions of revenues by rebroadcasting major football events. However, females and female football stars have shared only the nickels of this extremely lucrative industry. In this case, fans have to route around in social media to watch or support their teams and stars. On a small note, certain networks such as varzesh_banovan and footlady have gained 190k of audience. 

Similarly, male businessmen, politicians, and football players have been wowed officially. Actresses, business women, and female football stars have gained way less tractions, below their international peers. For them, official channels can be stalling, as they have to look “proper” with hijabs on these channels and avoid behaving in the “filthy” Western manner. Kim Kardashian style is officially disapproved in Iran, despite of large unofficial followings to celebrate her body liberty. To find more information, including body image, swimsuit takes, half nude or fully nude polaroid, and party pictures, fans have to seek them out from the unofficial social media. Iranian fans come with certain characteristics: big fan base and aflame power to attack; despite of the sanctions, countless use VPN to get on other internets. For example, in the last World Cup, the Iranian goalkeeper Beiravand saved a penalty shoot from Cristian Ronaldo. Within hours, Ronaldo’s Tweeter account was flooded with comments from Iranian fans. Similarly, Iranian Insta-models or celebrities that have Iranian lineage have well used the power of social media to depict another world different from what’s been boasted conventionally.

3. Political Channel

While international pressures mounts, the Iranian economy is going down; youngsters face climbing unemployment rate. Earlier when the Arab Spring was a flaming trend, there were already many groups that used Telegram to organise patriotic activities or protests for equal rights. In January 2018, some groups have funnelled political activities and anti-governmental protests through Telegram, which led to government’s crackdown and filter of Telegram. Among all the political causes, some female groups have blatantly used social media to raise controversy and hence more awareness towards female liberation domestically. 

For example, Iranian female blogger Maedeh Hojabri has used Instagram to spread her Western-inspired dances and music. Hashtags such as MyCameraIsMyWeapon have seen rising supports to call for women to take off their hijabs and post pictures of their free hairs, in a way to protest against the social convention that ladies need to wear hijabs in public space. Because how secluded Iran is to the world in relative sense, the world mostly knows Iran from conventional media portrait or social media information. Since many of the users on social media are young (who also tend to be liberal), the international impression of Iran has been fixated to a repressive regime that prisons its citizens, who are calling for freedom on the internet. Whereas, reality is more complex. Various powers use a diverse range of social media tools for different activities and with scattering intentions.  The ordinary Iranian life is authentic and slow. For young Iranians, social media gives them access to a broader world and a platform to share information; for the conservatives, social media the abyss of distorted, hyper, and ugly contents. In most of the corners of the world, reality and ordinary life have been similar. Despite the social media is undoubtedly fake, in a way filled with an ideal impression of life, for many, that has seeded in their mind a desire for an alternative world. 

*Data for the courtesy of Tech Rasa, instead of the ranking easily scoutable on the internet. The international data states that the internet penetration rate is 53.2% in Iran, which is underwhelming in many senses. Tech Rasa has been founded by a group of young Iranians that speak English and Farsi, many of who have also studied abroad. I rely on Tech Rasa for much information. Their work has been instrumental to a better understanding of Persia in the English literature.

Curious to learn more about Social Media in Iran? Click on the below image to watch my 3-min highlight vlog.

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