Iran Press Report, Social Media Edition: Facebook and Twitter in the Presidential Election

Mehrun Etebari
Mehrun Etebari Senior Research Assistant

June 6, 2013

As the presidential campaign has heated up, so have the candidates’ efforts to reach out to Iranians and the world via social media.  It can be difficult to gauge the penetration of social media networks in Iran, and the extent to which registered users are actually active. But for what it’s worth, a project called “CHIMIGI” – Farsi for “What are you saying?” – conducted a study of more than 2000 Iranian internet users last fall, and found that while only 12% used Twitter, 58% were on Facebook (meanwhile, 37% reported being users of Google+, on which Saeed Jalili, for example, has a strong presence).  This would seem to mesh with the choice of certain candidates to eschew Twitter in favor of a strong Facebook presence. 

As seen in the chart below, each candidate has at least one major Facebook page run either by their staff or by outside fans – sometimes it can be unclear who exactly is behind the page, and there are many more smaller pages in favor of the various candidates left unmentioned here.  The data listed below is certainly fluid and incomprehensive, and undoubtedly will have changed by the time you read this post – for example, Aref’s main page has gone from 8163 likes to 9968 since yesterday, while Rouhani’s and Velayati’s saw jumps of several hundred likes as well.  The pages have turned not only into information portals on the candidates but venues for political debate – for example, this post on the primary Rouhani campaign page spawned comments musing on the prospects for a Rouhani-Aref reformist coalition.


Facebook (including multiple fan sites)


Jalili (


1319 followers, 935 tweets

5364 likes, 1986 likes

178 followers, 33 photos

Rouhani (

974 followers, 922 tweets

3,890 likes, 386 likes

Ghalibaf (,

495 followers, 258 tweets

19,146 likes,9321 likes

1192 followers, 259 photos

Haddad Adel (

None (one lapsed account found under his name)

778 likes, 233 likes(Neither is updated with campaign info)

Rezaei (

31 followers, 601 tweets

10,219 likes, 1208 likes

Gharazi (

155 followers, 626 tweets

1157 likes, 100 likes

Velayati (

2 followers, 56 tweets


Aref (

736 followers, 240 tweets


Those candidates whose campaigns use Twitter – and their numbers have been increasing – have often made it a primary means of aiming information outside Iran’s borders, to reporters and analysts in the international community.  Although Saeed Jalili’s Twitter account has gradually moved to more of a heavily Persian-language output, tweeting about how he plans to fix trade and agricultural inefficiencies and linking to campaign videos, it has been used almost as frequently to send translated tweets in English to the outside world.  Velayati’s account is specifically targeted at Iranians living outside Iran, and is made up of English tweets.  (There does exist what appears to be the shell of a Persian Twitter account for the candidate, but it sits empty.)

Gharazi’s Twitter account has included a high proportion of retweets of users mentioning him, but this has extended to publicizing the tweets of organizations generally outside the boundaries of Iranian politics, such as the officially banned BBC Persian.  Similarly, although his account has been almost entirely in Persian, yesterday Ghalibaf’s team retweeted Jason Rezaian’s profile of him in the Washington Post.

Hassan Rouhani’s account, though including plenty of Persian-language material, has taken this to yet another level.  His team has not only tweeted extensively in English, but it has tweeted directly at foreign journalists working for major media outlets, such as in a tweet aimed at CNN’s Azadeh Ansari and the New York Times  Tehran correspondent Thomas Erdbrink. That particular tweet focused on the Rouhani’s comments implying he could bring freedom to the 2009 candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, currently under house arrest – an idea clearly likely to pique foreign media interest given the extent of attention given to the 2009 protests.  As if to further share the idea with the world that Rouhani is the candidate of open democracy, the campaign has made tweets that seem like an amalgamation of democratic buzzwords, such as “#civilrights #ruleoflaw #justice #hope #prudence #Rouhani2013.” Further, it has used Twitter to gain the attention of internationally recognized – and oft-interviewed – Iran analysts, such as the Saban Center’s own Suzanne Maloney, mentioned in a tweet also directed at Karim Sadjadpour and Trita Parsi. 

Twitter has been a late adoption by many campaign staffs, perhaps emulating the prolific tweeting of the Jalili and Rouhani campaigns.  The @qalibaf92 account of Tehran’s mayor was not established until May 28, for example.  The first of @gharazi’s 600-plus tweets was delivered only five days ago, and all of Aref’s Twitter activity has come in the past week.

The coherency of the social media strategies vary among the candidates as well.  Some clearly have strong coordination across their social media staff; for example, Rouhani’s Twitter account has often linked to his Facebook news page, such as when he appeared at Ayatollah Taheri’s memorial service in Isfahan yesterday; it has also frequently linked to videos on the campaign’s YouTube page, such as one tweet on Sunday showing an appearance among young reformists at which Rouhani’s youth campaign representative was detained by authorities. Jalili’s Twitter account has also been well connected to the network of sites involved in his campaign, often tweeting links to his position papers on various issues located on his policy site or pointing followers to the network of more than 1200 “Bloggers for Jalili.”  And most of the Rezaei account’s tweets have been links to posted material on a campaign Facebook page.  (Of course, as with all public Facebook pages, this leaves him open for undignified forms of vandalism in the comment section, as can be seen here.)

If you’re interested in more on social media in this election, take a look at the work of  Their second election monitoring report takes a crack at breaking down not only measures of the popularity of each candidate on social media, but also examines the nature of comments made about them on Twitter, from praiseful tweeted odes to sarcastic personal digs.

Let’s end with a brief Storify presentation giving a brief visual glimpse at the presence of three of the most social media-savvy candidates – Jalili, Rouhani, and Ghalibaf – across the various platforms they’ve been using.

[View the story “Saeed Jalili in the Social Media” on Storify]

[View the story “Hassan Rouhani in the Social Media” on Storify]
[View the story “Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in the Social Media” on Storify]

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before, navigating the fast-changing and complex world of the Iranian presidential candidates’ social media activity is difficult, and while I’ve given a glimpse of it here, I admit it’s far from comprehensive.  So if you know of interesting social media accounts that you think we should follow and share on this page, feel free to email us.