The Listening Post

US-Iran debates: Fake writers and state-funded trolling

Tax-funded smears & a fake activist: worrying twists in the US-Iran propaganda war. Plus, Algeria’s YouTube influencers.

On The Listening Post this week: Taxpayer-funded smears and a well-published but fake activist – worrying twists in the US-Iran online battle. Plus, the YouTube influencers of the Algerian protests.

The US-Iran propaganda war online

As the Trump administration continues with its hawkish talk on Iran, we need to look at how that story is being crafted and by whom: Heshmat Alavi was once cited by the White House as a credible commentator on Iran. Shame he doesn’t exist.

It turns out he is a fictional persona reportedly created by the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), a shadowy group opposed to the Iranian government and supported by Washington.

Then there is the Iran Disinformation Project funded entirely by the American taxpayer, ostensibly to counter Iranian propaganda, it trolls and sometimes smears Iranian-American commentators and journalists online.

And the government in Tehran is no innocent player in all this. It also tries to engineer what gets said and read online.


Negar Mortazavi – consultant editor, The Independent
Maral Karimi – author, The Iranian Green Movement of 2009
Trita Parsi – founder, National Iranian American Council
Tara Sepehri Far – Iran researcher, Human Rights Watch

On Our Radar

Richard Gizbert speaks to producer Johanna Hoes about the situation in Hong Kong – amid mass demonstrations over a controversial bill that would allow extradition to mainland China, journalists there have been among those criticising the law. Why?

Algeria: The revolution will be YouTubed

“They must all go” – that is the rallying cry from the streets of Algeria.

For four months now, millions of Algerians have been hitting the streets demanding political change. While they have succeeded in toppling the country’s long-time President – Abdelaziz Bouteflika – they are not done and are demanding a comprehensive dismantling of the ruling elite.

And many Algerians are far too politically aware to trust the state-owned media, which initially underplayed the protest story and continues to spin it. Instead, they have their own outlets.

Long before the demonstrations began, a generation of YouTubers emerged as unofficial spokespeople for Algeria’s youth.

We spoke with two of them – Anes Tina and Raja Meziane – about the grievances they articulate, the political and social change they advocate – in the slick videos they have produced, videos that are now part of the soundtrack of the Algerian revolution.

Anes Tina – comedian
Raja Meziane – musician