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Conspiracies and a Call for Genocide: Iran's Week in Hate Speech

November 25, 2023
Saleem Vaillancourt
3 min read
The Islamic Republic of Iran staged a military show in Tehran on November 24 in support of Palestinians, as part of an annual week devoted to the glorification of the paramilitary Basij force
The Islamic Republic of Iran staged a military show in Tehran on November 24 in support of Palestinians, as part of an annual week devoted to the glorification of the paramilitary Basij force

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 Week 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.

Two Iranian news outlets—Fars News, and the Young Journalists Club—with a reach of more than 1.2 million people were found this week to be propagating an antisemitic and anti-Baha'i conspiracy theory claiming that Baha'is helped to establish the state of Israel and now acted as its "espionage" arm across the Middle East.

A separate social media post meanwhile claimed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was related to historical Baha'i central figures. A Baha'i report of several years ago, Inciting Hatred: A Case Study in Religious Hatred, documented the decades of overlapping and often contradictory forms of disinformation and hate speech that the Iranian government has spent 44 years propagating against the Baha'i community.

The claim is a longstanding motif used by the Islamic Republic in its efforts to tar the Baha'i community. Baha'is are Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority and have been persecuted by the Iranian government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

IranWire tracked a total of six Persian-language articles from government-linked outlets over the week that propagated antisemitic, anti-Baha'i and anti-Sunni hate speech to an audience of almost five million Iranian readers. The six articles do not represent all examples of hate speech from Iranian outlets over the week—IranWire's monitoring focuses on outlets and social media influencers with wide readerships and large online followings.

Ninety-three social media posts spreading hate speech were also recorded over the past week. The overwhelming majority of these – 77 percent, or 72 posts in total – were antisemitic.

Tracking more antisemitic hate speech than other forms is consistent with recent findings, including IranWire's coverage last week, showing that antisemitism has exploded online since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the outbreak of a new conflict in Gaza. Antisemitic social media posts tracked by IranWire reached almost a million followers – with overall reach being core followers several times higher. IranWire also monitors only those accounts with the largest followings.

Anti-Baha'i and anti-Sunni social posts and news articles each accounted for 15 percent of the total tracked this week, or 14 posts apiece, with Iranian influencers denouncing Molavi Abdulhamid as a "traitor" and a "bastard" and attacking Baha'is for "provoking the superpowers to pass [UN] resolutions" against the country." Molavi Abdulhamid in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan province, is Iran's most prominent Sunni cleric and for more than a year he has rebuked the Iranian government for its human rights violations. The attacks against Abdolhamid were posted by social media accounts with almost 40,000 followers. And the post against the Baha'is referred to a recent United Nations resolution calling for an end to the "systematic persecution" of Iran's Baha'i community.

Other social media attacks on the Baha'is reached followings of more than 37,000 people. Attacks on the Sunni community in Iran meanwhile reached more than 66,000 followers.

A separate piece of social media hate speech nevertheless tried to "unite" Shia and Sunni Muslims against the Israeli "bastard regime" and "blood enemy" of Iran by showcasing the visit of a member of Hamas, Khalid Qadoumi, to the Shia shrine of Hazrat Masumeh in the Iranian religious city of Qom. More than 20 posts across the week used the slur "bastard" to refer to "Zionists" and Jews.

Not all hate speech by Iranian social media influencers is linked to the government. Five posts tracked in the past week recorded anti-Muslim posts. A social media account with more than 10,000 followers, seemingly linked to an extremist Christian, produced one of the most violent examples of hate speech during the week when it posted the "hope" that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu would "turn [Gaza] into a parking lot" and then called for a genocide against Palestinians.

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