The Social Factor in Iran's Presidential Elections - Small Media's Election Monitoring Report

The Social Factor in Iran's Presidential Elections - Small Media's Election Monitoring Report

On June 14, Iranians will head to the polls to cast their vote for the country’s next president.  With a slew of candidates and a volatile political climate, social media is abuzz in the country. To track the trends of online conversation surrounding the elections, analysts at Small Media – a UK-based organization focused on technology research – have developed an Election Monitoring Series to explore social media for Iranian perspectives. 

The second report in the series draws on data from Twitter, Facebook, and other sources collected between May 22 and May 27, following the candidates’ announcement on May 21 and leading up to the debate on May 31.  In total, researchers found 14,464 tweets including the names of the eight Iranian presidential candidates.  The most tweeted candidate, garnering 5,897 (40%) of the mentions, was Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator who is said to be very close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei.  Following Jalili with 2,117 mentions was Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council who is closely affiliated with the news website Tabnak and focuses on economic issues.  Hassan Rowhani, a Muslim cleric with centrist views and close ties to Iran’s ruling clerics, received 1,638 mentions, followed closely by Mohammad Gharazi and Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf.

The report also looked at the volume of tweets surrounding other influential figures in the election.  Here the big story was Al-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, fourth president of Iran and former member of the Assembly of Experts, who was disqualified from the race.  Mentions of Rafsanjani reached 8,538 between May 22-May 27. 

Beyond basic volume of tweets, the report also explored sentiment in social media conversation on the elections.  For their sentiment analysis, researchers coded a sample of tweets for each of the candidates to assess the sentiment of online conversation (positive, negative, neutral, or satirical).  Overall, the report found that re-tweets were generally satirical or sarcastic, and the attitude of tweets tended to carry a negative tone.  For example, in tweets mentioning Saeed Jalili, the report found that 46% were negative, 21% were positive, and a further 21% were satirical.  The most shared tweet was one by user @Amirazad_, which was tweeted 5,897 times and reflects the satire that was prevalent in the data:

Given the fact that Jalili’s academic expertise is on international relations during the early years of Islam, I think the first thing on his agenda should be to build a moat (referring to the Battle of Khandaq) around Iran. (Translated from Farsi)

The highest proportion of sarcastic or humorous tweets was found in conversation about Mohsen Rezaei, the second most-tweeted candidate, with 61% classified as satirical. 

So why does this matter for democracy?  The research by Small Media demonstrates basic trends in online conversation surrounding the Iranian elections, and examines how people are discussing the elections and candidates through social media.  In countries where social networks have become an essential means of communication for organizing, engaging, and sharing, new technologies can provide essential insights into opinions among the broader public as they are shared online.  They can also provide a means to track the dynamic online landscape of elections, campaigns, and other social movements.  Amid efforts to expand our understanding and engagement in social networks, we here at NDItech are currently testing a number of social media analytics tools as a way to gauge trends in public opinions.