Iran’s Minister of Twitter Mugged Online

On Twitter, a hashtag created to promote tourism in Iran has backfired as dissidents use it to highlight the country’s human rights shortcomings.

A week ago, Ali Araghchi, a nephew of Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi, launched the hashtag #MustSeeIran to promote tourism in Iran.

Starting with a picture of Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in city of Shiraz, Araghchi quickly followed it up with photos of historical monuments, opulent Islamic architectures and photographs of Iran’s top beauty spots. His tweets to his 29,000 followers were retweeted hundreds of times. Overnight, as other Iranians, inside and outside the country, posted a flurry of photographs to promote Iran tourism, #MustSeeIran went viral.

Araghchi, a PhD candidate in marketing at the University of Geneva, often accompanied his uncle during the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries. Although he was not part of the official delegation, Araghchi often tweeted tidbits for news starved journalists.

On Twitter, Araghchi was hailed as Iran’s online minister of tourism and minister of tweeting at #MustSeeIran. The semi-official Mehr News Agency joined the MustSeeIran campaign. A Facebook page was launched “to make other countries recognize our beautiful country.” Even President Hassan Rouhani joined the #MustSeeIran bandwagon on his Instagram account.

Ironically, both Facebook and Tweeter are banned in Iran.

That seemed to be a trivial matter for Araghchi or Rouhani.

However, nothing succeeds like success. Dissidents, human rights activists and opponents of the Islamic Republic are now using the same hashtag to highlight the Islamic Republic’s human rights abuses. #MustSeeIran now features pictures of public executions and tweets condemning a recent brutal attack on political prisoners.

This isn’t the only time a hashtag has backfired. the New York Police Department’s call for people to tweet photos with police officers has produced some unwanted publicity for the NYPD.

On the Tehran front, a photo of Araghchi sitting in a red Ferrari was among the latest additions to the #MustSeeIran. Making matters worse, tech-savvy users pointed out that 71 percent of Araghchi’s followers were fake accounts.

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