Ultraconservative protestors wave a Syrian revolution flag outside the residence of Iran's ambassador to Egypt.

Ultraconservative protestors wave a Syrian revolution flag outside the residence of Iran's ambassador to Egypt. Amr Nabil/AP

Arab Twitter Users Like Iran Even Less Than the US

Arab reaction to major events on Twitter from 2012 to 2013 points to broad animosity toward any non-Arab military interventionist power in the region. By Daniel A. Medina

After decades of bombings, invasions, and other military interventions, it’s no surprise that attitudes toward the United States are overwhelmingly negative in the Arab world. But according to a recent study, there’s at least one country that’s less popular than the US in the region—that would be Iran, at least on Twitter. (Israel was not monitored in the study.)

Using a tool created by the social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon, researchers from Princeton and Harvard analyzed millions of Arabic-language tweets from 2012 and 2013 to gauge anti-Americanism in the region. They examined Arab reaction to events such as Hurricane Sandy, the firestorm over the “Innocence of Muslims video,” the Boston Marathon bombing, and the removal of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

The researchers found that Arabs overwhelmingly had a negative view of Washington’s interventions in the region (in the case of Egypt, only 4% of tweets were pro-US). But when they examined a further estimated 27 million tweets geared toward Iran, they found an even deeper level of animosity.

“We found that as Iran intervened or was perceived to intervene in Syria and elsewhere [in 2012 and 2013], hostilities toward Iran on Twitter from Arab users increased,” Robert Keohane, a Princeton professor of international affairs and a co-author of the paper, told Quartz. “This, I think, was yet more evidence that it doesn’t matter if it’s Shiite Iran or the US or another power in the future—the non-Arab military interventionist power in the region is a target for this sentiment.”

The findings, Keohane explains, offer a unique perspective of the “Arab street” on social media. Whereas a public opinion poll might reflect a controlled group’s varied opinions on a particular subject matter, Twitter offers an unfiltered look at a broad range of people. Researchers can monitor public opinion through tweets on a daily basis, Keohane said, offering the ability “to look at events and have a much more modulated understanding of them as they are happening.”