Many Iranians, who welcomed Meta’s decision to remove the Iranian Supreme Leader’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, are now urging Elon Musk to follow suit and deactivate his X accounts.
Meta took the step of shutting down the Iranian leader’s Instagram and Facebook accounts on Thursday. A spokesperson for Meta stated that this action was taken due to repeated violations of Meta’s policies concerning “dangerous organizations and individuals.”
A post on X suggested a tweet storm to ask Musk to follow Meta’s example and shut down Khamenei’s accounts, a demand long pursued by Iranian activists and many social media users. “A country that bans something for its populace should not have the right to use it,” the tweet said.
“A dictator who denies people the right to use social networks should not have the right to access them,” another tweet said.
Iranians can only access Instagram and other major social media and instant messaging platforms such as X, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram if they have installed anti-filtering software on their devices. They need to circumvent government filters that make these apps inaccessible in the country.
Khamenei’s Persian and English Instagram accounts boast over five million and 200,000 followers, respectively. His accounts in Persian and English on X each have one million and 727 thousand followers. Additionally, he maintains X accounts in various other languages, including Arabic, French, Urdu, and Azerbaijani.
Meta has not offered details of the instances of violations of its policies by Khamenei’s accounts, but there are speculations the decision was prompted by these accounts voicing support and praising regime entities designated as terrorist by the United States and other western countries. Middle East Eye attributed the closure of the accounts to pressure from pro-Israel groups.
Instagram is the second most popular social platform in Iran after Telegram with over forty million users. Both platforms are used by millions of small and home-based businesses for marketing.
Khamenei has repeatedly called for the “eradication of Israel” and commended the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. On the day of the Hamas attack on Israeli cities, Khamenei’s former Twitter account, now referred to as X, stated, “the cancer of the usurper Zionist regime will be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people and the resistance forces throughout the region.”
The ban on Instagram, the only social platform not blocked by authorities, was announced on September 21, 2022, a few days after anti-government protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police engulfed the country. The ban, along with frequent internet blackouts, aimed to prevent protesters from sharing news and footage of the crackdowns.
For years, many in Iran have relied on VPNs and anti-filtering software to navigate through government censorship and blocked social media and websites. The use of VPNs to help access to banned social platforms and websites, however, surged by 30-fold in the following months.
A recent report by the e-commerce center of the ministry of industries showed Instagram to be the most used social platform in e-commerce with 55 percent of these businesses relying on it, followed by Telegram (41 percent) and WhatsApp (37 percent).
Social media users in Iran have largely shunned domestically developed social media applications such as Wisgoon and Nazdika, designed to replace Instagram, and Rubika, a messaging application, for various reasons including their quality and lack of privacy.
Experts have warned that domestic apps, which the authorities are trying to promote, are very vulnerable to government intrusion and there are serious safety and privacy concerns including the fear that security services could be able to spy on people through them.