Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif Mocked After Telling Followers to Watch His TED Talk on YouTube, Which Is Blocked in Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has been mocked online for using Instagram to share a YouTube link to his recent TED talk, despite the fact that both websites are among those banned in his home country.

The TED talk was filmed at the Amirkabir University in Tehran earlier this month. Titled, "Four mistakes in our negotiations we need to be aware of," the talk drew on Zarif's wide experience in international negotiations to offer viewers advice on their own interpersonal interactions.

The video description lauds Zarif's "four decades of being a diplomat with countless negotiations," and promises "his long-earned wisdom about four big mistakes we make in our communications, from small day-to-day talks to negotiation on big global issues."

Zarif shared the link on his Instagram page, which boasts 733,000 followers. But—ironically, given the talk's pro-communication theme—both Instagram and YouTube are on Iran's banned website list, alongside Facebook, Twitter and Telegram.

This does not stop the country's leaders from using such services though. Of course international outreach is vital for a foreign minister like Zarif—who also has 1.2 million Twitter followers—or Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who can reach 2 million followers on Instagram and another 840,000 on Twitter.

But Zarif was mocked online regardless. Comments under his Instagram post reminded the foreign minister that his country's own citizens wouldn't be able to watch his speech, while another asked, "Can you recommend a good anti-filtering tool?"

Iran's regime retains an authoritarian grip on the country's internet, fearful of active-measures influence from foreign powers and hoping to restrict its citizens' ability to organize against the government. In past periods of unrest, the government has blocked mobile and internet networks as it suppressed demonstrations.

The country is now building its own national intranet—first proposed in 2010—to exert greater control over what its citizens can access and share. Iran's national information network (ININ) is now 80 percent complete, according to Radio Farda.

State news agency IRNA has said it will offer "high quality, high speed" connections at "low costs," though will also promote Islamic content and mold public digital practices. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported in May that some $451 million has been spent on the project so far, drawing on both government and private sector funds.

But greater online restriction has been a boon to virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow their users to get around government-imposed filters. Thanks to VPNs, at least some Iranians will be able to listen to Zarif espouse the benefits of communication on YouTube.

Javad Zarif, TED talk, YouTube, internet, Instagram
Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, arrives for a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at United Nations headquarters, July 18, 2019 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/Getty