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VOA Breaks Social Media Records Covering Iran Protests

Voice of America’s Digital Strategy Director Matthew Baise speaking at George Washington University
Voice of America’s Digital Strategy Director Matthew Baise speaking at George Washington University

The Voice of America’s Digital Strategy Director Matthew Baise made remarks to a full room in George Washington’s Elliott School of International Service on February 5th about the social media impact VOA is making on countries around the world in times of crisis, specifically in Iran. Baise presented analytics of the views and engagements VOA media platforms received during the Iranian protest coverage.

The New Year’s holiday weekend didn’t slow VOA journalists in covering the Iranian protests, which began in late December. They immediately went into 24/7 breaking news mode, particularly in the Persian news room, and used broadcast, social media, and online articles to get the message to Iran as well as other countries. For the first time, VOA had two parallel, real-time blogs in both Persian and English, which allowed all VOA language services to cover the story.

Through weeding out falsified images and videos, VOA was able to release authenticated content that was viewed millions of times. “The videos, pictures and information we were receiving were almost exclusively reported by people on the scene from over 80 cities in Iran,” said Baise.

During that time, visits to Persian language platforms skyrocketed. “Over 23 million people engaged with the Instagram posts in one day while the Persian website recorded over 800,000 visits several days in a row,” he said. Website traffic soared above an already high percentage and broke records, showing the Iranians’ demand for reliable news.

The breaking news about the protests also attracted interest in China. The Chinese audience used circumvention tools to gain access to VOA Mandarin’s website and views from that region skyrocketed.

VOA was also able to provide quick and unfiltered access to interviews with high profile officials like U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and National Security spokesperson Michael Anton through the work of VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren. Regular broadcasting was interrupted so the audiences in Iran could receive this coverage live.

“Today, more than 48 million Iranians own smartphones, and there are five social media platforms actively used by protesters in Iran, with Instagram and Telegram as the leading platforms,” said Baise. With the population in Iran becoming younger, VOA has used the social media platforms necessary to adapt and provide to audience members of all ages.

This event was a part of a ‘First Monday’ forum sponsored by the Public Diplomacy Alumni Association, the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and the Public Diplomacy Council.