Create infographics

Unmasking the Arzeshi

A new interactive report to breakdown the situation of the Internet in Iran

January 30, 2014

One of our most popular guest posts here on Visual Loop was the one where Iranian information designer Maral Pourkazemi provided a detailed view on the state of the Internet use in that country. Now, Maral and the team of researchers and designers of Small Media, a non-profit based in London, are about to release a new report filled with fresh data and visual analysis about this topic.

Unmasking the Arzeshi


Here’s the full press-release we received:

“The Iranian government claims it has thousands of hardline supporters actively waging an online war against the regime’s political opponents, but what’s the real story?

On Friday 31 January, London-based non-profit Small Media, releases its latest report: “Unmasking the Arzeshi: Iran’s Conservative Cyber-Activists and the 2013 Presidential Election”.

This interactive report takes readers on a journey through the complicated online world of the Arzeshi – the Islamic Republic’s most devoted conservative activists – and shows first-hand what Iran’s hardliners are really talking about.

Over the past two years, the Iranian government has thrown out some impressive statistics regarding the online presence of pro-regime activists. In a 2012 interview, a representative of the Supreme Leader, Hojjat ol-Islam Shaban Esmaeli, claimed that around 35,000 conservative Basiji activists were combatting reformist and anti-government Iranians in cyberspace.

This latest piece of research from Small Media puts these claims to the test by analysing the Arzeshi community’s activities on three platforms: the Iranian blogosphere, Twitter, and Google+.

The study blows apart the myth of a sprawling, active and organised community, and exposes the inactivity and disunity of the Arzeshi.

It reveals conservatives’ true feelings about former President Ahmadinejad’s time in office, records users’ debates about his potential replacements, and demonstrates the community’s reaction to the election of the moderate Hassan Rouhani.

Additionally, the report engages with a number of other political and social topics, taking in Arzeshi opinions on women’s rights, LGBT equality, and Iranian strained relationship with the West.

The study incorporated over a million raw blog and website links, and thousands of social network activities.

James Marchant, Small Media’s Research Manager, said: “This report is the first piece of in-depth research to illustrate the reality of Iran’s secretive community of online conservative activists. It shows that contrary to all government claims, the Arzeshi community is actually very fragmented and inward-looking – it is a long way from the energetic activist army touted by senior Iranian officials.”

What the Arzeshi say:

“May dogs shit on your ridiculous ideals! I’ll have to make a habit of whispering ‘President Rouhani’ for the next eight years… damn.”
– Sadegh Nikoo // Google+ // 15/6/2013

“I can clearly see the day when we will stand behind Rouhani and defend him, whilst the Greens and counter-revolutionaries will curse him everyday, and say that he was not one of them from the very beginning!”
– Taghi Dejakam // Google+ // 18/6/2013

Our key findings:

  • State claims of a sprawling online network of conservatives are bogus. Although there are tens of thousands of sites and blogs in the wider Arzeshi network, the vast majority were poorly-connected, hardly-read, and contained unoriginal content pasted from other sites.
  • The Arzeshi failed to unite around a single presidential candidate. Just as the general population split their votes across a number of conservative candidates in the election, so did the Arzeshi fail to unite around a single figure: they are not a disciplined political force, but a fractious online community like any other.
  • The Arzeshi are united in one thing – their utter devotion to Iran’s Supreme Leader. Though we saw plenty of evidence of division amongst the Arzeshi when talking about elected politicians, their loyalty to the Leader and to the political system of the Islamic Republic is unquestionable.
  • The Arzeshi have a number of unofficial “leaders”. Although a disparate community, a number of figures have emerged as the most prolific writers and opinion-makers. Journalists such as Vahid Yaminpour, Kobra Asoopar and Taghi Dejakam lead the charge, though other high-profile bloggers include clerical students and full-time cyber activists.
  • The Arzeshi represent a genuine community. Although sometimes politically divided, the shared conservatism of the Arzeshi community does seem to bind them together. When not arguing for the necessity of the hijab, or against the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Europe, the Arzeshi share personal stories about their families, tell jokes, and make social connections.

For more information, please contact James Marchant at [email protected]

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.