Iran has seen major waves of resistance in the form of protests in 1999, 2009, 2017, 2019 and 2021; what separates the 2022 protests from protests before? All preceding protests reveal an underlying legitimacy crisis for the regime where the population have called for regime change. These protests share common themes of widespread dissatisfaction with the regime and its exclusionary policies towards women and other minority groups. However, the protests sparked by Amini’s death have transcended sectarian and ethnic differences, and the role of social media has differentiated the 2022 protests in terms of reach. Amini’s death has sparked global outrage across the country with individuals in adjacent countries and the West demonstrating support for Iranian protests by burning their hijabs and cutting their hair. The impact of social media has meant that protestors have been able to share videos of severe uses of force by the Iranian police and protests in real-time using the hashtag #Mahsa_Amini.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini has sparked protests against the current regime in Iran throughout all 31 provinces in the country and across the world. Amini’s death followed after being arrested for protesting the compulsory headscarf rules, resulting in her death. The Iranian police claim her death was a result of heart issues, however, public opinion rejects these claims as eyewitnesses have come forward with allegations that Amini was severely beaten by police officers almost immediately after her arrest. The police tried to dispel these allegations with reportedly heavily edited CCTV footage showing Amini holding her head and subsequently fainting whilst in police custody – this has sparked further outrage across the country. Several factors have been attributed to the protests in Iran, and scholars and journalists have highlighted the general dissolution of Khamenei’s regime, the contention of Islamic law, and women’s rights. Social media, albeit underappreciated, is a major factor driving the current wave of Iranian protests and is essential to comprehending both their effectiveness and the broad indignation over Amini’s death.
The outrage sparked by Amini’s death is far-reaching and pervasive. Cities like Mashhad and Qom, previously considered loyal to the regime, are protesting against the state. Despite state-sanctioned restrictions on the internet and apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram, the videos of protests and police killings have dispensed the spirit of resistance to areas that have previously been key strongholds of the regime in terms of public opinion and therefore upholding the regime’s legitimacy. The impacts of social media on the protests in Iran are pertinent, it plays a major role in unearthing even the quietest feelings of dissatisfaction and animosity towards Khamenei’s regime. The government’s internet censorship highlights the critical role that social media has played in the Iran demonstrations. The attempt to contain public fury and the dissemination of information online are two examples of how social media has helped the protests endure.
Similar to the major waves of resistance in previous years, the 2022 protests have been highly decentralised, there is no central leader or organisation that drives the resistance against the current regime. Similar to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and the United Kingdom when social media circulated videos of the public shooting of George Floyd, social media incentivises individuals in Iran to protest online and organise resistance on the ground. Iran’s “George Floyd moment” might be summed up by saying that Mahsa Amini’s passing served as both the impetus and fuel for the public’s active forms of resistance to the government. Iran has gotten support from all around the world as a result, much like the BLM movement, which benefited greatly from social media. Iran was thus kicked out of the United Nations (UN) Women’s Rights Council, and the UN also sanctioned Iran’s Morality Police based on allegations of human rights abuses.
Ultimately, many elements contribute to the Iran protests. Mahsa Amini’s death was the catalyst that started a continuing global movement against Iran’s current regime. Scholars and journalists alike have drawn attention to the role of women’s rights and debates on Islamic law, but social media has been a key component that helps to facilitate the impact of all grievances. Understanding social media’s significance is essential for comprehending the ongoing Iranian demonstrations since it reveals how a decentralised movement has spread throughout the globe. Social media is still a vital tool for winning over other nations’ and international organisations’ support.