An Iranian prosecutor has denied news that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned by an Iranian court in response to breach-of-privacy complaints.
Shiraz Chief Prosecutor Ali Alghasi Mehr told the Islamic Republic News Agency that the story of Zuckberg’s summoning, which made international news, is not true. However, he added that there are “private complaints” of privacy issues with respect to pictures and videos shared on Facebook and its other social media platforms Instagram and WhatsApp.
The story appears to have started when the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported the summoning yesterday, May 27. Ruhollah Momen-Nasab, an information technology official with the paramilitary Basij force, told ISNA that after individual complaints of privacy breaches on WhatsApp and Instagram, “the CEO of the Zionist company or his lawyer” has been ordered to respond to a court in Fars province and to pay “compensation.”
Momen-Nasab did not name the judge who ordered the summons. The story has since been deleted.
Today, ISNA published a statement by the Fars province prosecutor’s public relations department denying that Zuckerberg or the head of any other social media website had been summoned. The statement read, “The news that has been published online is from unofficial sources of quotes from unaccountable individuals. It is necessary to avoid publishing this type of news and rumors.”
The statement explained that since the beginning of the Iranian year (March 20), “There have been a number of breach-of-privacy complaints from videos and pictures and Internet scams at the Shiraz prosecutor's office.” The case, it read, is still under review and no one has been summoned in relation to the complaints.
According to the statement, 50 people had filed complaints about Internet scams and that three people had filed complaints “for abuse of family pictures in an immoral manner.” It warned young individuals that there are more complaints each day of such privacy violations.
The story, however, was covered widely by English-language publications long before the denial was issued. It became so popular that Iranian media covered the American coverage of the news. Asr-Iran summarized the coverage by Reuters, the Associated Press and Sky News. IRNA also reported that the Turkish media had also covered the news extensively.
Iranians on Facebook had fun with the news, placing Zuckerberg’s image on hard-line Kayhan newspaper’s top story and quoting him as saying, “I will compensate; I was deceived by the Zionists.” The lead sentence quoted Zuckerberg as confirming that he was tricked by George Soros into conducting a coup against Iran’s government. Soros is often maligned by Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari.
Facebook is currently blocked in Iran, and users must access it via proxy servers. President Hassan Rouhani has invited more Iranians to join social media websites. He, his foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and a number of other ministers are very active on Facebook and Twitter. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is also on Twitter and Facebook.