Understanding Online Misinformation in Iran, the Epicentre of Coronavirus in the Middle East
We are delighted to have contributed with a new chapter to Meedan’s 2020 Misinfodemic Report: COVID-19 in Emerging Economies. The chapter focuses on misinformation around coronavirus in Iran, focusing on the uses and misuses of religion and politics in the country.
Iran is a special case study for two reasons. Firstly, it’s one of the earliest countries to spiral into mass COVID19 infections. And secondly, it was the epicentre of the virus in the MENA region, proving to be the origin of the early emergence of the virus in the rest of the Middle East.
Much analysis has been devoted to Iran’s failings in preventing and managing the COVID19 crisis in Iran. Critical discussions have also emerged that have underlined the often biased basis of foreign media in overstating Iran’s failings, given that even many advanced democracies have been found to be lacking in their responses to the virus.
This report contributes to these analyses and also provides some corrections to mainstream misconceptions of what online COVID19 misinformation in Iran was and was not. For example, alcohol poisonings were misattributed by UK media to have contributed to the spread of “online COVID19 fake news.” However, a deeper look into the history of illegal alcohol production and a longstanding epidemic of alcohol-related deaths in Iran dispels this misconception.
What is undisputed is that an online infodemic has been exacerbating the dangers of COVID19 globally. In this report, we zero in on Iran’s information environment to understand how the online infodemic has taken shape.
Three overriding themes define the conditions of the online infodemic: a) the lack of public trust in officials, b) religiously charged narratives by unofficial fringe figures, and c) political manipulation of the discourse around the virus. The chapter also ends by focusing on the countermeasures implemented and the limitations that enabled the dissemination of the misleading content.