The recent demonstrations in Iran are centered around many Iranian’s dislike toward the Islamic Republic that was established in 1979. They have expressed profound disagreements regarding the treatment of women, the faltering economy and employment rates, the government’s involvement in Syria — the list continues.

However, the government has since shut down most of the social media platforms used to organize these rallies in an effort to quell the demonstrations. Controlling the media — be it social media, media outlets or other methods of information flow — is a hallmark of authoritarian control. The messaging service called Telegram was instrumental in organizing these events, and it has been restricted along with Instagram.

There have also been reports of counter-protests, sponsored by the state. As the demonstrations have progressed, much of the picture and video media (run by the state) has begun to shift focus from the anti-government protests, leaning more toward the pro-government ones. Much of this media (as seen below) is centered on women supporting the strict Islamic law seen in Iran, which is in contrast to the international community’s criticisms toward the country in their treatment of women.

Burma has historically tried similar methods in controlling information, sponsoring rallies against the Rohingya and controlling what information is broadcasted in regards to what has been described by the UN as “textbook ethnic cleansing.” They have played to the western anxiety toward Muslim extremism, and now Iran is submitting toward the international community’s sympathy in regards to the destruction of public property.

However, in the modern era, controlling information has become increasingly difficult for authoritarian governments. With the ease of technology comes the ease of the spread of information.

Iranian protesters chant slogans at a rally in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. Iranian hard-liners rallied Saturday to support the country’s supreme leader and clerically overseen government as spontaneous protests sparked by anger over the country’s ailing economy roiled major cities in the Islamic Republic. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

One of the primary points of conflict is the unemployment rates in Iran, which was reported by the Statistical Center of Iran to be 12.4% in 2016. While this is much higher than the U.S.’s 4.6% in the same year, analysts have estimated that Iran’s percentage was much higher — another piece of information carefully controlled and possibly downplayed by the Iranian government.

The definition of unemployment is also a way of controlling these numbers. The United States simply defines unemployment as such: “People are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work.”

Iran has more stipulations, and the key one is the amount of work. In Iran, if a person works at least one hour a week then they are considered employed; they are also employed if they left or were told to leave temporarily.  To contrast, in the U.S., it is even possible to collect unemployment benefits in some cases if the person has a part-time job. Iran also counts those one-hour-a-week workers as employed, from ages 10 and up.

These types of alternate definitions and ways of translating legal terms can vastly skew the public’s perception of concepts like unemployment — which is likely far higher than the reported 12.4% in 2016. It’s a way of tempering the public’s anger toward those issues.

Just looking at the two websites, the effort in regards to clarity is quite different.


Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.