A Good Election Day!

Iran’s elections have been extraordinary, not just for their results, but also for the changes in information control policies compared to previous votes. Like the previous elections, Iran continuously increased efforts, starting as early as January, to block access to many circumvention tools and control the flow of information in the run up to the elections. These efforts continued to final days of the election process and campaigning by candidates, however, increased information controls during this period did not extend to accessible social media platforms and general access to Internet. Noteworthy events during the week were reports that the websites of former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the Expediency Discernment Council that he chairs became temporarily inaccessible, and Rafsanjani later confirmed on Twitter that both sites had been targets of successful DDoS attacks. Despite these incidents, Iranians experienced relatively fewer information controls compared to the 2013 presidential election.

In the lead-up to the elections there had been reports that Rouhani’s administration and the Telecommunications Ministry were under pressure to temporarily block access to Telegram during the 24-hour ban on campaigning prior to election day. Supposedly, this pressure was based on the Ministry’s inability to prevent candidates from using Telegram for campaign purposes. However, Telegram remained accessible and was not blocked, and Minister of Telecommunications Vaezi recently confirmed that his ministry resisted pressure to block the popular social media platform during the elections.

Access to the Internet and smartphones has never been this high during an election in Iran. With more users having access to Internet on their phones, social media, and in particular apps like Telegram, became an important part of the election process in Iran. For example, there were Telegram bots giving users list of candidates in their ridings, and reformist groups and their supporters actively campaigned on these platforms, encouraging people to vote. Election results were also rapidly shared between Telegram channels, becoming unofficial sources for journalists and news outlets.  

Beyond social media, Internet access and speeds were surprisingly uninterrupted throughout Election day. ASL19 was monitoring social media throughout the day and many users, particularly on Twitter, were voicing their surprise and joy at the fact that Internet access, contrary to the presidential election in 2013, was not disrupted. In 2013, in addition to increased blocking of circumvention tools, Internet speeds were affected, connections were throttled, and telecommunications services were disrupted.

However, Internet and telecommunication services remained accessible throughout this year’s Election Day. While Iran had continuously increased efforts to block access to many circumvention tools, on Election Day, many users took to social media and expressed positive feedback for connecting to circumvention tools; many tweets from users mentioned that after weeks of trying they were finally able to successfully connect and use circumvention tools. Other than some sporadic reports from users that their access to the Internet was disrupted for a short time in the final hours of Election Day, after the polls were closed, users were generally very happy with their speeds and access to the Internet.

ASL19 ran a survey on Twitter during Election Day asking users if their Internet access and speeds had changed compared to previous days. 68% of 503 respondents reported observing no difference, and our user engagement on other channels pointed to similar experiences. Overall, we observed that Iran did not implement an increased level of information controls on the day of the elections, contrary to expectations of  users based on their previous experiences. Election proceedings and results were openly discussed on social media, distinguishing this election with greater access to information and online discussions than the presidential election in 2013.