It was lighthearted fun: children singing and dancing to a popular Persian pop song. But when hard-line Iranian authorities saw the videos, uploaded to social media by teachers at several schools, they were not amused and unleashed their wrath.
"The enemy is trying different ways to create anxiety among the people, including by spreading these disturbing videos we have been seeing in cyberspace," Iran's education minister, Mohammad Bathaei, said last week. "I'm certain there's some kind of political plot behind the publication of these devious clips in schools."
Such outrage is nothing new. Since the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah, conservative Islamic clerics have tried to reduce or eliminate the influence of Western culture. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, for example sought to ban all music from radio and television after solidifying control over the burgeoning Islamic Republic.
But with the rise in popularity of social media platforms, Iranian efforts to remain insular face a greater threat than ever. That's because the types of entertainment that hard-line authorities have long abhorred are now spread and disseminated throughout society at speeds faster than can be controlled.
"These viral videos are cracks in the Iranian government controls and the internet has opened them up thanks to the ease of access," said Holly Dagres, an Iran expert at the Atlantic Council. "In the eyes of hard-liners, messaging apps and the internet have become hubs for incitement against the state. Without their control on the flow of information, it can become a liability for hard-line authorities."
Now, members of Iran's parliament have launched an investigation to identify those responsible for the viral videos, with some saying they should be fired and prosecuted.
Education minister Bathaei announced last week that authorities had convened a team of three "experts" to find the school administrators and teachers.
Ministry spokesman Massoud Saghafi said several schools in Tehran were being investigated, including one elementary school, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported.
The videos were part of an online "dance challenge" meant to mark the country's Teachers' Day celebration, held annually on May 2, according to news reports in Iran.
They show children at several schools dancing and singing to Los Angeles-based Iranian singer Sasy Mankan's song, "Gentlemen."