Opinion makers

With the growing number of social media users, especially Telegram users, the number of bloggers and citizen journalists using the Telegram feature “public channel”, which allows the owner to publish messages to all its followers, is growing. Two of the most famous of these citizen journalists are Mamlekate (roughly translated as: ‘Is this the country?’) and Vahid Online.

Mamlekate, the more politically oriented, has almost 300,000 readers, but it is still growing fast. Vahid Online, with over 100,000 viewers, picks out the news that, as he says, "are not usually covered by the official news outlets" but attract the public attention on the social media. Most of the times these are controversial news about sensitive matters, also in the social field, and people's reactions to them. For example, when in January 2017 the first Airbus bought by the national airline Iran Air after the end of the sanctions arrived in Tehran, he covered different reactions on the social media. Also, in October 2016 it provoked an avalanche of reactions with a joke made about a program of the State TV where the right of women to ask for divorce was discussed. He also covers news that are not necessarily about Iran but are interesting for Iranian audience, like Donald Trump's speeches. Vahid Online has won Deutsche Welle’s People’s Choice Award for Citizen Journalism.

Telegram has been used by young candidates to reach potential voters during the campaign for the parliamentary elections of 2016. But also Twitter, though banned, is used to create debates about political or social issues that affect the daily life of common citizens. This is what happened with the creation of the hashtag #TechnoSanctions to discuss the consequences of the international sanctions.

Therefore, even though blogging remains an important form of expression for political protest, social media are gaining a central role and more popularity, as arenas where it is possible to share and discuss opinions, to be kept informed about the latest developments at almost real time and where it is possible to involve also an international audience about certain subjects by posting messages in English. An example is the campaign in favor of the human rights activist Arash Sadeghi who was on a hunger strike in Evin prison in Tehran for 71 days to ask for the release of his wife, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, arrested after security agents had found an unpublished story in their apartment in which a character burns the Koran in protest. Mr. Sadeghi, who is serving a 19-year prison term on charges including "spreading propaganda against the system", "gathering and colluding against national security" and "insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic", ended his protest on the 3rd of January 2017 after his wife was granted temporary release from prison. During his hunger strike, an international Twitter campaign to support him was launched on Twitter with the hashtag #SaveArash. For some hours, the appeal for the release of his wife was the most shared tweet in the world on 31st of December 2016. The campaign also had the effect of provoking a rare unauthorized demonstration in front of Evin prison, with the participation of hundreds of people.