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Social media in Iran

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The BBC has several correspondents inside Iran.

Heavy restrictions have now been placed on the BBC and other foreign news organisations. Reporters are not allowed to cover unauthorised gatherings or move around freely in Tehran - though there are no controls over what they can say.

Although they are facing difficulties, they have been filing regularly and their reports have appeared on radio, TV and online (recent examples: Q&A: Latest from Tehran; Iran attempts to restrict media).

We also have a Persian service for TV, radio and online which offers BBC news to an Iranian audience both in Iran and around the world.

Screengrab of Iran linksSo why are we also monitoring social media like the microblogging service Twitter and linking to its search results for the Iran elections?

Simply put, it's because among the various impediments to reporting, there's a huge ongoing, informed and informative discussion in Iran between people who care deeply about what is happening there and who are themselves monitoring everything they can, then circulating the most useful information and links.

It should be noted that the majority of messages on Twitter, both within Iran and abroad, are from Mousavi sympathisers - a factor we need to allow for.

There's no filter or editorial process other than the capacity of those involved to correct or contradict each other; my colleague Richard Sambrook has written more about this on his personal blog (Twittering the uprising?).

What really stands out is the range of sources, voices and angles to be looked into. There's no hierarchy: everything's on merit, and there is of course a new set of challenges for our staff - chiefly editorial challenges, as well as a kind of chase as social media services appear and disappear in what The Times' Judith Evans describes as "an electronic game of cat and mouse".

I've written here before about our use of Twitter in another context, and spoke then about the need for us (BBC News) to exercise care and to check information before publishing it as fact - and that remains true. We'll check anything we want to include in our account of what is actually happening. But we also want to link what we do with the flow of discussion, links, rumours and reports which is providing another channel for people following the story.

For more on other ways to follow the story see our list of links and Ben Parr at Mashable has some good tips for using some of these sites.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.


  • Comment number 1.

    given that the Iranian authorities announced a (partial) recount of the ballot papers today, I hope the BBC will be circumspect in the use of their "..several correspondents inside Iran".

  • Comment number 2.

    I think the point being made here is that young people in Iran, certainly those who live in cities, are extremely savvy about computers and were already, before the current crisis, adept at getting round attempts to censor internet content. This gives the current revolt against the Iranian powers-that-be a whole new complexion. It's the mullahs and the fundamentalists against the new technological universe. I doubt if the Iranian authorities can afford to shut down the web altogether, for economic reasons, even if this is in fact possible, since the internet knows no frontiers. Many of the hacking programmes used by young Iranians were developed by members of the Falung Gong in China. So essentially this rebellion is not like other rebellions,just as Obama's election campaign, which made brilliant use of the web, was not like previous election campaigns in the USA. We may be at the beginning of a world-changing event, in which new communicaion technology plays a leading part.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think Iran needs a moderate leader to this modern century where all the technologies available these days and yet the fundementalist and fanatic religeous entourage banning these.It is enough for 31 years this country's leaders making its society live under severe opression.

  • Comment number 5.

    While I fully support any move that will end up with the democratic wishes of the people being realised, I feel a bit queezy about the BBC's apparent move to make it's home page green in support of the opposition protests.

    Not quite what I expect from the impartial Beeb, no matter how good the cause.

  • Comment number 6.

    Was wondering why the BBC didn't show similar concern when George W Bush was elected US president even after controversial Florida votes in his first term.

  • Comment number 7.

    I would like to make sure the world is aware of an important fact: Iranians are NOT upset because Ahmadinejad got elected; they are upset because they believe he rigged the election in his own favor. If BBC is to consider themselves an impartial news service, they need to report this fact accurately in ALL their articles and posts. Referring to Mir Hossein Mousavi simply as the "defeated presidential candidate" (as is done here ignores this most important fact. It implies that supporters of Mr. Mousavi are unhappy with the outcome of a valid election, and have taken to the streets illegally. This is not impartial reporting. I'm calling on all the people at BBC to please strongly emphasize the following fact in all their articles, posts, blogs, and videos: many (if not most) Iranians believe that the election was a sham.

  • Comment number 8.

    Electionguru: Independent studies (all voting records were available under the Freedom of Information Act, a situation that does not hold in Iran) showed that most people in Florida actually DID vote for George Bush. It also showed that more people intended to vote for Al Gore, but we are talking about a question over a few thousand votes at most out of a total of more than 6 million. And I can assure you that there was saturation coverage of the Florida vote, recount, court case, appeal, etc. In fact, the Florida election was debated to death.

    What is happening in Iran is more nebulous. There were no independent observers (believe it or not, there are foreign observers in American elections) and it is much harder to apply checks. That is the source of the rumours. I've read sources describing opinion polls that gave totally contradictory opinions: one that said that Hossein Mousavi had a narrow advantage and another that suggested that Ahmadinejad had a lead large enough that he could have won by a 2 to 1 margin. The problem lies there: in establishing what really happened and in the lack of an established procedure for appealing results (NB: a process that was open to and used by BOTH candidates in Florida)

  • Comment number 9.

    Angostura: I know people have been saying on Twitter that the BBC homepage was green to support protests in Iran - but in fact the homepage has several different colours, which change, so it was just a coincidence that it was green today! Steve

  • Comment number 10.

    I think BBC News has a major problem. Its insistence on mixing judgement and comment with news means that we cannot wholly trust its output. When the Iraq conflict was at its height the impression was given on more than one occasion that the whole country was in turmoil when it turned out to be the cities, and Baghdad in particular that were the main centres of violence.

    Is it once again extrapolating the experiences in the big cities and towns of Iran onto the whole country? Is it grafting the experiences of the more liberal, perhaps younger citizens onto the whole population?

    As there is presumably some feedback of this coverage to Iran through the internet and satellite, is this at least partially fuelling the conflict? Yet again the BBC is part of the story. Not only that but we have Peter Horrocks demanding that Iran ceases jamming of BBC output. He states that it is vital that citizens in Iran know what is happening.

    Perhaps you mean is that it is vital the people of Iran receive the BBCs version of events, even if it may be slanted towards the urban experience and even it is peppered with the BBCs own views?

    The BBC cannot tell governments of other countries what to do. It cannot decide that its message should be broadcast to the people of Iran over the heads of the Iranian government. When it comes to dealing with foreign governments and treaties made with those governments it is the UK government that should be doing this and not a jumped up hack who seems to have assumed the divine right to communicate directly with the Iranian People.

    If it impartially reported the facts as they were known and didnt pepper its coverage with its own opinions and coverage from what is effectively one side of the fence then it may have more facts to report. If it kept out of the limelight instead of treating foreign governments like they were colonial administrations then the BBC may be able to report the news rather than being part of it.

  • Comment number 11.

    "Was wondering why the BBC didn't show similar concern when George W Bush was elected US president even after controversial Florida votes in his first term."

    In what alternate universe do you live in where the 2000 votes in Florida wasn't covered so heavily everyone got sick of hearing about hanging chads et al?

  • Comment number 12.

    Sneaking mobile phone video and broadcasting on TV is illegal if not authorise to do so. Would you have allowed Russian media during cold world era to broadcast Irish Liberation Army policies openly.

  • Comment number 13.

    am really unhappy with the way Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports on the Ahmadinejad trip to Moscow. in the piece (on BBC News 24) he sounds snide when mentioning Russia and China as Iranian 'friends', he goes on about the speech 'attacking' the USA. what we do not learn is the reasons why Ahmadinejad meets with Medvedev (ie. are they discussing trade?). poor show.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    After so much exposture of Iran election results,demonstrations by opposition parties,public in Iran towns,her guardian council had agreed to recount the election votes.
    Thisis a wlecome feature.
    I have observed many Islamic nations are imposing so many restrictions to foreign media network websites.
    But due to latest advancement by electronic media,high communication facilities made us to know that ,what is happening in Iran is known.

  • Comment number 16.

    To echo some of the more thoughtful comments in this blog and to pick on your use of the term "social media" as a heading I just wonder what the BBC's attitude would be were this whole process transported to the UK.

    It would appear that the use of electronic media to "incite or encourage protest" may be a breach of the Terrorism Act. Are the BBC easy with this?

    So what is different about Iran where western media seem much less intent on reporting fact and much more concerned with being a part of the protest in order to obtain "scoops" by exacerbating the unrest? Could it be that the BBC is partial to a regime change regardless of what the consequences for Iran may be? Is that impartial?

    Your excited chatter brims over Mr Herrmann, a bit like an acned youth carried by the passion of protest but never quite understanding where the demands for change may end or even what he or she is doing in the first place - the BBC not just in a "war zone" but actually a part of the "war".

    I wonder how that squares with the comments on Bush's election in 2000 which ignore the premise that around 44,000 key votes in Florida decided the election. Clearly these contributors were not acquainted with real fact by the media (only the spin put on it by a pro-Bush media perhaps). Does that not make you a little red faced about the power the media seem to have over impressionable people? Should you not be a little more responsible about Iran then?

  • Comment number 17.

    To Steve Herrman

    The BBC coverage of Iran is appearing more and more biased:

    1) Why does BBC continually refer to "the regime" in Iran? (R4 Today Prog, World at One, R4 six o'clock news) You don't use this terminology when describing the British government. I don't hear it when you refer to France, Germany or USA. Justin Webb has even called it the "regime" on his current blog.

    2) In the last few days, presenters and reporters have also been repeating the phrase when describing Ahmadinejad aspects, "...affect Iran's relationship with the rest of the world." Iran has good relations with many countries. Your reports are making it sound as it is at odds with the rest of the world.

    3) In the run-up to the election why were you attaching so much importance to the blogs and twitter in Iran? This is a select demographic and completely unrepresentative. Anyone who surveyed 'Yahoo Answers' news/current affairs pages for a 'take' on public opinion in America and Britain would be completely misled.

    4) Again, in the run-up to the election, how do you explain your frequent predictions that Ahmadinejad was likely to lose the election. Given that the polls were extremely wide ranging and showed no pattern, how were you able to make any forecast? And wasn't it irresponsible to do so?

    5) There is one storyline that keeps getting reported on American news, which implies the election result must be false because all the votes were counted within three hours. In fairness to BBC, I have not heard them repeat this one, but where are these stories coming from?

    There does appear to be some sort of 'disinformation programme' going on.

    (BTW I record many R4 programmes onto SD Card, so these aren't false recollections)

  • Comment number 18.

    There is another revolution going on. And BBC News is not ahead of the game. BBC News (and Murdoch and co.) are now in the same position as Newspapers and the Internet - and the mobile phone.

    The woman and man in the street are reporting their own, immediate news; sending in the pictures and getting around the cities before the professional has packed his bag never mind caught the plane.

    To stay ahead of the game, TV News must give special and lengthy time outwith the official bulletins; raw and unedited - The BBC News Youtube so's to speak.

    Only then will BBC News keep ahead of the game. Imv.

  • Comment number 19.

    forensix: I reject the suggestion that the BBC is taking sides in the protests because it is paying attention to what is happening on Twitter. We have adopted a similar approach for stories based in the UK - this was our live reporting on the G20 event and protests in London. I just thought this example - the volume of exchanges on Twitter and its importance to the wider story, was worthy of comment, and I wanted to explain the approach we have taken to this.

  • Comment number 20.

    Steve Herrmann (BBC) #19.

    I just thought this example - the volume of exchanges on Twitter and its importance to the wider story.."

    reality check. what proportion of Iranian Citizens (of those who were entitled to vote) uses Twitter? I would not be surprised to learn that the percentage is quite small. so what about the majority of people who aren't 'twits'? are they not also part of the "..huge ongoing, informed and informative discussion in Iran between people who care deeply.."? why do we not hear their voices?

  • Comment number 21.


    Thank you Mr Herrmann, but my earlier comment stands. The use of instant media was indeed used in G20 after protracted protest by demonstrators and AFTER people dispersed. On the afternoon after the protest I made a blog entry having heard a first hand account of what happened but there were no official stories about heavy handed police tactics until well after my blog entry was made.

    My point about Iran is that the BBC intermixed mobile phone footage in the Simpson report and there was much more in evidence on Persian TV and on the Internet. None of this originated from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's support as the BBC has clearly stated elsewhere.

    In a protest wherever it may occur it is expected that the protagonists will be central to the news and the pictures in Tehran were no different. What may have been different was the commentary. One of the "motorcycle police" was "captured" with his bike which was set on fire whilst he was "ushered to safety by protesters" (BBC commentary) when the pictures showed him being pushed and shoved around and eventually led to safety clearly terrified.

    In the UK G20 much of the BBC footage covered raids on a bank not the penning and detention of crowds by police. You also used police spokespeople reporting on "how the demonstrations went" remembering that three separate groups were involved.

    The difference between the two demonstrations was marked both in complexity and depth of coverage and in the applied commentary.

    Thank you for responding to me; that alone is very refreshing and most unexpected.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    We are to have trials without jury and we kill the police kill people and get away with it the PMs fleece those they are supposed to be working for but those who doe the same to the benefit system go to prison and loose everything we beg the banks to give us money that we have given to them we have an PM who is not voted in who surround himself with others who are unelected who is a law unto himself, I think the West fears the man that the Iran's chose because he tells people what is going on and knows that the middle classes are the trouble makers, he gives money to the poor we should try it hear instead of feeding the middle class media .

  • Comment number 30.

    ''Why are we(the BBC) monitoring Twitter?
    Simply put,there is a huge ongoing,informed and informative discussion,...then circulating the most useful information and links''.

    Supporters of the main opposition party leader has about 20-to-1 ratio of Facebook friends than the present incumbent. Probably similar on Twitter.
    ''Discussion'' ? Twitter ''reports'' are limited to 140 characters.

    If the BBC wants to rely on gossip for it's news that's their choice.

    Remember the other ''gossip-fueled dreams'',PM,G Brown and ''the plotters'' a few weeks ago ?

    Post a message on Twitter that there will be ''a meeting'' at eight o'clock with the destination.
    People turn up to see if there is a meeting, and the self-prophecy comes true. would like to thank everybody for all the free publicity.

    *psst* ''Loose talk costs lives''.

    Oh it already has........

  • Comment number 31.

    Yes.Social media in Iran are very active.
    I have read a lot of articles on social websites ,especially twitter is playing a major role of transfering of Iranians views into election results.
    Thatswhy,Iranian government is trying level best to block this website.
    There is an English adage,!!S single spark start a prairie fire.
    That things happens in Iran.
    Very good sweets to global news channel and for leading social websie.
    After reading of all reports from bbc,twitter,face book, a silent revolution starts at Iron.
    One way is good for free thought,but in other way, it will create chaos and confusions in and around Iran.

  • Comment number 32.

    Really, Iran news starts filling many pages in newspapers,magazines,websites with great interests.
    Thanks to our bbc network,bbc tv,radio channels are giving accurate pictures in Iran.
    Khudus to freedom of expression,and khudus to bbc.

  • Comment number 33.

    Just to say well done all the iranian people (anti islamic), finally they've got the courage and strength to stand up to those diktators. Please, please dont give up you've come so far. It's time for a CHANGE. Get rid of these mullahs. All of them!
    Keep going, so proud of you guys.
    Power to the people.

    Proud persian girl

  • Comment number 34.

    Steve Herrmann (BBC) #19.

    "..reject the suggestion that the BBC is taking sides in the protests because it is paying attention to what is happening on Twitter. We have adopted a similar approach for stories based in the UK - this was our live reporting on the G20 event and protests in London."

    well, today's reporting keeps on adding the word "thugs" whenever Iranian riot police types are shown "in action", striking batons from the back of motorcycles. "thug" is quite an ugly word, full of all sorts of connotations. would that the BBC had had the guts to call the London police "thugs" too when we saw them in action. I try to keep an open mind but you make it very difficult to believe in your professed impartiality.

  • Comment number 35.

    Hey, well informed public, do tell, remember the Gaza? It was no foreign journalist in or out, that's how it was. Couple of Israelis even defied own courts, strange as it may be, many have missed the happening though.

    Heh, a bit of democracy turned into mockery here, military junta there, fundamentalism of East ignited by West spread as far as Libyan bubonic plague and vice versa and all over again?

    Sobering and closer look, examine, see how they clench the power with their greedy, greedy hands.

    Things to ask, how in the world can already corrupt people fight corruption?

    Remarkable, global occurrence, no country spared.

    We'll have to evolve you know.

    Why the total surveillance?

    Why are they imposing restrictions on flying, persistently and consistently?

    Why are the perpetrators of the biggest financial fraud still at large?

    Why are the perpetrators of crime which marked 21st Century still at large?

    Why BBC insists that "two plus two equals five"?!

  • Comment number 36.


    I think, Mr Herrmann, that you protest too loudly.

    The G20 demonstrations in London became newsworthy after the event because a man died following an incident involving a police officer. During the event the BBC showed "protesters" vandalising, breaking into and entering a bank. You did not show peaceful demonstrators appealing to police to be allowed to leave the pens because they wanted to go home and being refused time and time again.

    During the Iran protests there was copious footage of motorcycle police indiscriminately riding at and lashing out with batons at any protester they could get near to. Have you complained about the use of mounted police in UK demonstrations?

    To most observers it suggests when the BBC agrees with a protest and when the BBC does not agree with a protest. I do not believe it is your place as a National broadcaster to judge events according to "righteousness" but simply to transmit news and allow people to form their own opinions.

  • Comment number 37.


    If persons outside-of-the-United Kingdom remain impeded from accessing the BBC's exemplary TV (video format) coverage of the current Iran issues & other important coming world events through the BBC's web sight- this can not benefit anyone: news event participants; politicians; civil servants; or especially- the UK's trade interests...

    Until several weeks ago BBC video/TV-format programmes such as HARDtalk, Newsnight, Daily Politics, This Week, Working Lunch, Fast:track, Click, News at Six, News at Ten (& more) used to have links on their web pages that said 'view this programme on Realplayer or Windows Media Player'...

    Gradually these links have been eliminated, leaving potential international viewers who wanted to view these programmes with only the option of clicking on the BBC iplayer link on these programmes' web pages...

    The BBC iplayer has been set up to be non-working for video/TV programmes from locations outside the UK....

    The result of the removal of the- for over half a decade available- option (for outside UK persons) of viewing BBC video/TV programmes using Real Player or Windows Media Player is a situation where UK citizens who are overseas; ex-pats; & others- are counter-productively impeded from doing this..

    Why was this decision made?

    Why haven't there been any announcements by the BBC on its web pages about the removal of Realplayer and Windows Media Player options for outside-of-the-UK persons to view BBC video/TV programmes??

    If cost is a factor, perhaps using the MSNBC Internet model as a straw horse for the BBC's formulating of policies & practices re accessibility of its video/TV programmes by outside-of-the-UK persons could be useful...

    MSNBC puts SHORT revenue-generating commercials SHOWN ONLY AT THE BEGINNING of its video/TV programmes (and news-clips) that are accessible through the Internet...

    It stands to reason that the more accessible to persons based outside-of-the-UK that the BBC's world leading radio, TV and text-based products are, the better for the UK & its foreign-policy/trade relationships abroad...

    What productive sense can there be for the United Kingdom in significantly reducing the availability of core-products of the UK's defacto "international goodwill ambassador"- the BBC- at any time, let alone during today's international-strife (Iraq/Afghanistan/radicalized Islam) & economic turmoil ridden world??

    (And during extensive world media-delivery change, which may see many of the BBC's competitors going out of business)??

    Roderick V. Louis,
    Vancouver, B.C., Canada,


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