Iran's current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa against "fake" likes and followers on social media. Khamenei's declaration comes as his followers posed questions at him through his website.
Fatwas are legal opinions or rulings issued by an Islamic scholar. These fatwas are based on Quranic teachings and are socially and sometimes legally carried out as laws.
Khamenei was asked what his ruling is about fake likes and followers on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The supreme leader decreed that "if it is real, it is not inherently wrong, in cases when nothing corrupt is involved." "But it is not allowed if it is fake and made up," Khamenei added.
Earlier this year, Meta, Facebook's parent company, announced that it had removed fake Instagram accounts posing as Scottish and British locals supporting Scottish independence. According to Meta, the fake accounts were based in Iran.
Ben Nimmo, global threat intelligence lead for influence operations for Meta, said they have "seen a range of operations coming from Iran over the last few years."
Khamenei explicitly banned Shia Muslims from buying and selling online likes and followers, although he provided that "bona fide ones remain permissible." Khamenei called the practice a subjective and highly flexible nature of the word corrupt in Persian.
Khamenei is known for his controversial fatwas. In February last year, a letter made the media rounds allegedly written by Khamenei in 2010, addressed to the International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament.
In the letter, Khamenei allegedly called nuclear weapons haram. "We consider the use of such weapons as religiously forbidden and believe that everyone must make efforts to secure humanity against this great disaster," the letter said. The fatwa originates from an oral proclamation in 2003 forbidding the production and use of nuclear weapons in response to an official’s inquiry.
When Khamenei became Iran's second Supreme Leader, he was considered not fit because he was only a hojatoleslam, an authority on Islam. Hojatoleslams are historically mid-ranking clerics not fit for Iran's highest political role.
Iran's constitution requires a "Marja," a source of religious emulation for the supreme leadership.
In Shia tradition, Marja's are supposed to "emerge gradually" after scholarships, education, and a successful preaching career. Khamenei was able to ram through his status as a Marja, legitimizing his role as Iran's supreme leader. “He exchanged his stylish cloak for the conventional ones worn by the clerics…and apparently gave up smoking pipe,” said Islamic scholar Mohsen Kadivar.