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Features

Surprise! Most Online Trolls are Foul-Mouthed Men: Iran's Month in Hate Speech

May 17, 2024
Saleem Vaillancourt
4 min read
One day alone saw a major spike, though with almost 8,000 posts of hate speech published on April 14.  If that date seems familiar it's because it was the day the Iranian government launched hundreds of missiles and drones against Israel from its own territory
One day alone saw a major spike, though with almost 8,000 posts of hate speech published on April 14. If that date seems familiar it's because it was the day the Iranian government launched hundreds of missiles and drones against Israel from its own territory

Hate speech may start with words but it can end in more than just tears – it can end with violence and even death. IranWire's "Iran's Month in Hate Speech" series tracks Persian-language social media posts and articles targeting religious groups in Iran with derogatory language, conspiracy theories and calls for violence. Our tracking is not exhaustive: we focus on influencers and websites with large followings and wide reach. The series is designed to inform the general public and to help social media companies exercise their responsibility to monitor and remove hate speech on their channels.

Online hate speech against religious minorities – published by outlets or influencers associated with the Islamic Republic government – rose by 124 percent in April. IranWire's monthly hate speech tracking also found that almost 70,000 separate pieces of hate speech were tracked on social media.

Daily output levels of hateful posts were consistent across the month with numbers ranging between about 1,750 posts and just over 2,500 posts. One day alone saw a major spike, though with almost 8,000 posts of hate speech published on April 14.

If that date seems familiar it's because it was the day the Iranian government launched hundreds of missiles and drones against Israel from its own territory.

The April 14 spike is yet another demonstration of the Islamic Republic's longstanding aggression to Israel and the role that Iran-backed hate speech plays in this conflict. IranWire's past "Iran's Month in Hate Speech" articles have exposed this dynamic by analyzing antisemitic hate speech and correlations between attacks on Jews and other religious minorities in Iran.

IranWire also tracked a 159 percent increase in total antisemitic mentions over the month – with 60,000 posts published. Antisemitic material comprised a staggering 88 percent of the monthly total. And while antisemitic material has always dominated IranWire's tracking since our analysis began – after the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israel – the volumes were never as high as the past month. The posts contained the usual dehumanizing language and a full 12 percent of antisemitic posts were posted on the April 14 day of Iran's attack on Israel.

One piece of hate speech also saw higher levels of engagement than any other: an April 12 post on X by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei which said only: "May God's curse be upon the usurping Zionist regime." By the time this article was published, the post had been seen almost 950,000 times, with 3,700 reposts (making it the most reposted item of hate speech tracked by IranWire this month) and 16,000 likes. Khamenei's account was also one of two most widely-followed accounts to spread hate propaganda over the month – to more than 766,000 users.

Tasnim News, with almost 400,000 followers, was the other major influencer in the month. Other leading news outlets responsible for spreading hateful material this month included the Islamic Republic News Agency, Mehr News, the Iranian Students News Agency, and the Young Journalists Club.

Hate speech targeting Sunni Muslims also increased in April, by 51 percent, outstripping even anti-Baha'i content for the month. Anti-Sunni posts totalled 3,500 posts, with a daily average of 118, while anti-Baha'i posts saw a rare decrease (by 11 percent) to about 3,400 posts with a comparable daily average. Posts targeting Zoroastrians in Iran also declined by 3 percent.

Posts targeted Christians saw a 12 percent increase, however, with about 1,600 items of hate speech. IranWire observed a spike on April 24: Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

And in a major finding that will surprise no one – and yet is important to explain, and to repeat – IranWire also found that at least 81 percent of social media users posting hate speech and content attack religious minorities this month were male.

The language deployed by these social media users was as vulgar as it was predictable. Our apologies in advance for the unpleasantness; but members of religious minorities, as well as other targets of hateful posts, were variously called "bastards" or "whores," accused of "buggery," and were castigated with coarse terms for both male and female sex organs. Derogatory terms for gay people were also used. And IranWire's analysis did not cover every slur – many others were not measured.

IranWire's hate speech analyst Awat Pouri also used "set theory" to estimate that about 14,000 to 15,000 pieces of social media content included these words, shared by some of the 56,000 male users who were active in the month, in an edifying reminder that men who post hate speech online lack not only character but also imagination.

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