Iran’s State News Agency Mimics Al Jazeera With New Social Media Channel. All It Needs Now Is Followers

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A demonstrator on a motorcycle holding an effigy representing Israel and the United States during the annual Al-Quds Day rally in Tehran earlier this month.
A demonstrator on a motorcycle holding an effigy representing Israel and the United States during the annual Al-Quds Day rally in Tehran earlier this month.Credit: Vahid Salemi/AP

As fears grow that Israel and the Palestinians may be on the verge of another war, a recently launched extension of the Iranian government’s state news agency online is trying to use messaging supportive of the Palestinian cause to grow its base.

Press Plus (also styled PRESS+) launched on Instagram last November, to little fanfare. A Twitter account followed in March. However, its content – generally minute-long videos overlaid with fast-moving text in English on black backgrounds – has generated few views and fewer likes and retweets, especially compared to parent channel Press TV.

Still, it will be hoping to piggyback the convergence of last week’s Quds Day – which sees mass pro-Palestinian rallies in Iran and throughout the Muslim world – with the ongoing violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the volatile situation between Israel and Hamas to start attracting followers.

What kind of content can you see on Press Plus? One video, an Quds Day video from May 6, features a member of the anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta sect saying: “Rivers of bloodshed have not finished yet, especially over the past years with the Great Return March.”

They add: “Every week, the Zionist people try to silence the peaceful protesters with brutal killing.” Neturei Karta members are a common presence at anti-Israel demonstrations around the world.

The Quds Day video, which also chastises Gulf states for signing normalization agreements with Israel, has to date garnered a meager 85 retweets and 170 likes. 

Another video from the same day, about Emirati land deals to Jews in East Jerusalem and the internment of Palestinian activists in Saudi prisons, received slightly more attention than content taking aim solely at the Gulf nations (which Iran views as foes).

One clip released on Monday, before Israel and Hamas resumed hostilities with a vengeance, detailed the social media backlash over an Israeli Foreign Ministry post in which it invited Muslims to break their Ramadan fast “with mansaf, a traditional Arab dish (popular in Israel),” in its “Taste of Israel” cooking series. 

“Social media users are slamming Israel once again, but not just because of its aggression or stealing Palestinian lands,” the text overlaying the video reads. “Now angry people say mansaf existed long before Israel’s invasion and occupation. … People say stealing has become a habit of Israel.” 

One post features former British politician Lembit Öpik, whom it bills somewhat generously as a comedian, riffing in the style of “The Daily Show” on images of Israeli soldiers. On the vaccination of Gazans, the media personality says: “A cynic might say it’s because the [Israeli] regime has invested so heavily in weapons and bombs – if the pandemic kills more Palestinians than the Israelis do, then all those missiles and bullets were very poor value for money,” as a laugh track plays behind him.

Both Press Plus’ name and its black-and-yellow branding evoke, if not copy, the early work of Al Jazeera’s AJ+, which launched in 2013 and now describes itself as a “unique digital news and storytelling project promoting human rights and equality.” But unlike the Qatari state broadcaster, which kept some distance between its millennial-, progressive- and Western-focused AJ+ and its conservative parent company, Press Plus states its affiliation to Press TV in its profiles.

Another striking difference is the popularity of the platforms: while AJ+ has 1.1 million followers on Twitter alone, Press Plus has fewer than 350 followers. By contrast, Press TV’s primary Twitter account boasts over 200,000 followers.

In between its posts about Israel and the Palestinians, Press Plus also does not hesitate to praise the Iranian government and address issues such as the nuclear deal between Iran and five world powers.

In another general strand, Press Play’s “Sudan Says” series – featuring British political activist and performance poet Richard Sudan discussing French Islamophobia, U.S. racism and the Dubai regime’s abuse of women – has performed relatively well. Overall, though, its content typically receives little, if any, attention.

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