Iranians reacted to remarks from Nancy Pelosi on Sunday by starting a Twitter hashtag implying the House Speaker was spreading fake news.
During a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Pelosi addressed reports of Iranians protesting their own regime following Iran’s admission that it had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet last week.
The California Democrat, who has strongly criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for killing Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, suggested the target of the demonstrators’ ire was not the Iranian regime itself.
“Well, the protesters are protesting about the fact that the plane went down and many students were on that plane,” she told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos.
Stephanopoulos pointed out the protesters had accused “the regime of lying, saying ‘Death to the Dictator’ as well.”
“Well whatever it is,” Pelosi replied. “But the fact is this: There were protesters in the street before against the regime. After the taking out of Soleimani, there were protesters in the street joined together, as you know, against us. It wasn’t good.”
“There are different reasons why people are in the street,” she added.
Some Iranians were upset by Pelosi’s comments, accusing her of misrepresenting how they felt about their country’s regime.
A hashtag campaign, which appeared to originate with Iranian journalist and activist Nariman Gharib, ensued.
— 🤖Nariman (@NarimanGharib) January 13, 2020
“Iranian people are angry about what Nancy Pelosi said recently in the interview with @ABC so WE’ve launched a hashtag against what she said. #NancyPelosiFakeNews,” Gharib tweeted early Monday morning.
Several other Iranian social media users followed Gharib’s lead.
.@SpeakerPelosi If you want to be friends with the Iranian people, don't be friends with the Islamic Republic and the Mullahs.
The Iranian people in the streets are shouting: We do not want the Islamic Republic.#NancyPelosiFakeNews
— Mohammad Mozafari (@mohmd_mozafari) January 13, 2020
The hashtag was trending later in the day, receiving a substantial boost after the president retweeted Gharib’s initial tweet.
— Imam of Peace (@Imamofpeace) January 13, 2020
Liberals on social media suggested the #NancyPelosiFakeNews hashtag was the product of a foreign influence campaign engineered by “bots.”
The Twitter account for the Palmer Report, a partisan liberal blog, characterized the #NancyPelosiFakeNews hashtag as “fake.”
Donald Trump's day so far:
– Retweets image of mutilated corpse
– Retweets fake hashtag #NancyPelosiFakeNews eight times
– Misspells "imminent"
– Misspells "Bernie Sanders"
– Misspells "Pocahontas"
– This guy is falling to pieces
– Trump is going to prison
– It's still only 3pm
— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) January 13, 2020
Feminist journalist Caroline Orr accused Trump of “signaling that he’s open to foreign interference.”
Trump retweeted some of the earliest #NancyPelosiFakeNews tweets, thereby showing the whole world that he can be manipulated into sharing things if they attack his perceived enemies — regardless of the source.
He’s signaling that he’s open to foreign interference. Again. https://t.co/iBGmDMzHTC
— Caroline Orr (@RVAwonk) January 13, 2020
The tweet Orr linked to in her attack on Trump appeared to push back on the narrative that the anti-Pelosi hashtag was inauthentic.
User Conspirador Norteño, a popular Twitter account belonging to someone purporting to be a “data scientist” and member of the anti-Trump “Resistance,” shot down the idea that #NancyPelosiFakeNews had proliferated by way of bots.
“We’ve been seeing rumors about bots, but the traffic mostly doesn’t look automated,” Conspirador Norteño tweeted on Monday.
How did the #NancyPelosiFakeNews trend get started? The early accounts (including @NarimanGharib, who sent the first tweet) appear to be Iranian; tweets are in both Farsi and English. Posting the first tweet in the middle of the night US time likely helped the hashtag to trend. pic.twitter.com/l52IF3aRvh
— Conspirador Norteño (@conspirator0) January 13, 2020
Conspirador Norteño also said the accounts which had first tweeted out the hashtag appeared to be Iranian.
“They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here”
Students protesting the Iranian regime at a university in Tehran refused to trample on an American flag painted on the ground in the path of their march, according to social media posts.
Watch how Iranian students refuse to step on American & the flag of Israel.
This should embarrassed Iranian regime & their propaganda funeral for #Soleimani where people were told to chant “Death To America”.
Now people in Iran chanting “Death to Islamic Republic dictatorship.” pic.twitter.com/hTxDuxZeaB
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) January 12, 2020
Footage, posted to Twitter by Iranian outlets critical of the government, appeared to capture a crowd of several hundred protestors at the university going out of their way not to walk on the U.S. flag or an Israeli flag painted alongside it.
Those who did walk on the flags were chastised by others, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Across Iran on Sunday, protesters took to the streets to demand the state’s top leadership quit. The display of anger came after the Iranian military admitted it had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner at a time when it had feared U.S. strikes.
“They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” dozens of protesters outside a university in Tehran chanted, according to video clips posted on Twitter. Scores of demonstrators were also shown gathered in other cities.
The social media posts could not be verified by Reuters. But state-affiliated media had reported protests on Saturday shortly after the Iranian military apologized for mistakenly bringing down the Ukrainian plane on Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard.
Tehran residents told Reuters police were out in force in the capital on Sunday, as public discontent boiled up following days of denials by the military that it was to blame, even as Canada and the United States said a missile had brought the plane down.
Riot police fired teargas at thousands of protesters in the capital on Saturday, where many had chanted “Death to the dictator,” directing their rage at the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Apologize and resign,” Iran’s moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline on Sunday, saying the “people’s demand” was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)