It looks the US and Iran are on the verge of an all-out meme war.
Over the past few days, as the aftermath of the killing of Iranian General Qasem Suileimani has faded from the headlines, the US and Iran have moved their feuding to a different, and extremely unexpected, venue: The Chinese Internet.
According to the New York Times, the Weibo accounts for the Iranian and American embassies in Beijing have been trading barbs on Weibo, a Chinese-language social-media site that's often compared to the Chinese version of twitter.
The two sides have accused each other of inciting terrorism, and denounced one another as corrupt. The US embassy has accused Iran of "leaving bloodstains everywhere." The Iranian embassy has denounced Suleimani's killing and vowed to seek the end of "America's evil forces in western Asia."
The Iranian embassy has also been taking screenshots of tweets from its Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and reposting them on Weibo with Chinese translations.
Most major western Internet platforms, including Google, FB and Twitter, are blocked from the Chinese Internet (though some can get around this using a VPN).
Typically, China's censors block political content on the Internet for fear of allowing any information that might undermine the Communist Party from slipping through. But for whatever reason, they have so far been inclined to allow the US and Iran to go at it in full view of the Chinese public.
Instead, Chinese media have closely followed the spat, even going so far as to describe Weibo as "the new battlefield" between the US and Iran. The hashtag "Weibo fight" had been viewed nearly 2 million times as of Thursday.
Meanwhile, in the US, some social media companies, including Facebook, are removing posts and even entire accounts run by Iranians (who have access to Instagram), because of their pro-Iran content.
IRGC affiliated Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_Fa) has its Instagram profile removed following Soleimani’s assassination. Unclear if because of Soleimani’s terrorist designation and their coverage of him. Semi-official @FarsNews_Agency remains live, with commemorative posts. pic.twitter.com/nboZk1bLTu— mahsa alimardani 🌒 (@maasalan) January 3, 2020
Journalist in Iran reports @instagram posts removed: 1st of a Quronic verse commemorating martyrs, & 2nd a photo of Soleimani. Would be good to hear what @instagram's decisions are on these moderation policies. Soleimani content still persists on Instagram despite these removals pic.twitter.com/rhM5KXi5Db— mahsa alimardani 🌒 (@maasalan) January 3, 2020
Individual Iranians are also reporting their posts are being removed by Instagram if they’re related to Soleimani. Would be good to get a statement on @instagram on the logic behind these removals. https://t.co/9CDDBpxITZ https://t.co/fkBHLRvdwq pic.twitter.com/7xlAFTh7pM— mahsa alimardani 🌒 (@maasalan) January 3, 2020
So, the US and Iran are having a debate on the Chinese Internet that Facebook and its fellow Silicon Valley titans have banned from the American Internet. Isn't it ironic?