In Tehran, candidates must meet specific selection criteria to even be allowed on the ballot. Current President Hassan Rouhani underwent the same selection process, which some say that cleared the ballot of anyone else. He presents a “moderate” face to the West, which was important to the nuclear negotiations that the regime needed desperately, as it resulted in the release of $160 billion in frozen assets that revived the country’s failing economy.
Iranian dissident groups feel that this is hypocrisy, which explains the regime’s long-running efforts to discredit any group that oppose the it. The regime has exerted diplomatic pressure, mass arrests and imprisonment, has outlawed participation or membership, attacked the groups in news media, and even resorted to launching online assaults and social media campaigns denouncing dissidents.
An article by Michael Tomlinson in Iran Lobby states that, “In terms of technology, the Iran regime has sought to create a wide range of online front groups, web pages and blogs dedicated to discrediting any Iranian opposition group and attempt to give the perception of a social media wave of support for its policies. Of particular focus for these regime false fronts has been the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella opposition group housing various resistance efforts such as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) or otherwise known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).”
There is a vast number of regime online fronts reaching across all platforms and includes Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIN, as well as websites and blogs and multimedia like YouTube. An example of one of those sites is the Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) which regularly denounces the MEK.
The CASMII website displays affiliated links to many of the Iran regime’s websites, such as Stop Iran War, Code Pink: Iran, Mossadegh Project News and Iran Affairs. Also included are official regime news links such as Payvand News, the close alignment of CASMII to the regime in Tehran is evident.
What is not there is revealing. The CASMII site reveals no names of staff, no quotes by associates of CASMII, no indication who supports it, and no contact information. There are also no comments made by groups such as Amnesty International or any stories about the support of groups such as Hezbollah by Iran. No discussion of disputed elections or of the protests in the streets of Tehran. No mention of the Americans being held in Iranian prisons.
Many of the posts on CASMII, especially relating to the Iranian resistance, are cut and pasted from regime news sites, regime press statements, and articles written by regime supporters.
According to Tomlinson, “CASMII, like many of the groups listed as links, serves essentially as a link farm to help boost page views and clicks to favorable articles, mostly on sympathetic sites and news organizations such as Huffington Post, Guardian newspaper, National Iranian American Council and Buzzfeed,” and he adds, “CASMII and these other sites do little to add to any real policy debate over the Iran nuclear deal and instead are just part of the background noise being generated by the regime in the hope of drowning out the real debate taking place in town halls across America as congressional representatives and senators go home to talk to their constituents.”