Since Dec. 28, Iran has been rocked by political protests that have claimed 21 lives. Initially citing the weak economy and mounting food prices, the demonstrations have evolved into a more general form of political unrest, and protesters are calling for the ousting of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He's the second-longest serving head of state in the Middle East, and as Supreme Leader, he outranks President Hassan Rouhani.
Iranian authorities have taken to blocking certain media networks, including Instagram, to quell civil unrest, and our commander/tweeter-in-chief is none too pleased about it. For days, Trump tweeted words of support for the protestors (yes, you read that right) and called on Iran to unblock the social media sites. He even encouraged Iranians to use special software to get around government controls. Now, the U.S. State Department is backing the President, contending America has an “obligation not to stand by.”
Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein notes that sites like Instagram and the messaging app Telegram (also blocked) are “legitimate avenues for communication. People in Iran should be able to access those sites.” The U.S. is said to be working diligently to circumvent the blocks to maintain communication with the Iranians. Goldstein says the U.S. is also encouraging other countries to join in supporting the protestors. “We want to encourage the protesters to continue to fight for what’s right and to open up Iran,” said Goldstein.
It’s kind of an odd stance for an administration that’s been systematically purging scientific facts from the EPA’s website and dismantled net neutrality, but then again, nothing really makes sense in the Trump White House.
The role of social media in political protests should not be underestimated. In 2010's wave of Middle Eastern revolutions known as the Arab Spring, social media played a huge part in inciting and spreading political activism in countries where state-operated media is the norm.