Iran Simmers

After the deadliest unrest in 40 years, internet activity suggests political and economic grievances persist.


Two weeks ago, a sudden increase in gasoline prices set off a wave of anti-government unrest across Iran. The regime responded with a deadly crackdown. It shut off the country’s internet for a week, and security forces opened fire on demonstrators, leaving as many as 450 dead. After the most violent political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, Predata signals show Farsi-speaking internet users are scrutinizing Iranian government figures and sources of economic discontent, signs that the country’s upheaval may yet continue. 

First, signals reveal Farsi-speaking internet users have been investigating the most powerful figures in the Iranian state. Online attention to both regime insiders -- such as key generals in the Revolutionary Guard and the theocracy -- and to President Rouhani and his more reform-minded allies in the government has peaked. Both these camps condemned the protesters and the demonstrations, blaming them on the United States.


Dips in these signals in mid-November reflect the internet blackout when all activity originated from netizens outside of Iran. Notably, both signals hit their peaks after the unrest subsided, which suggests that as Iranians regained access they turned their focus toward the figures who had presided over the deadly crackdown. 


Web activity related to sources of economic discontent in Iran also paints a compelling picture. Online attention to the major economic drivers of unrest, such as corruption, prices, and poverty, spiked over the weekend. It appears that economic grievances may be even more acute after the crackdown.


Taken together, these online trends indicate political and economic grievances may be even more salient than they were before the protest movement began. That bodes ill for the government.