Despite ban, 'Rich Kids of Tehran' party on

Story highlights

  • "Rich Kids of Tehran" is a popular Instagram account showing wealthy young Iranians
  • It offers a startling glimpse at decadent lifestyles in a socially conservative country
  • The account was shut down in October, but later resurfaced with a new name
Women lounge in designer bikinis next to glistening infinity pools. Young men race their latest Porsches and Maseratis, their wrists draped in gold jewelry.
Partygoers take sips from bottles of bubbly inside plush mansions.
The photos could be of the young, high-society crowd in Beverly Hills, New York or Miami.
But looks can be deceiving.
Meet the "Rich Kids of Tehran," a social media phenomenon that has attracted worldwide attention for offering a startling glimpse at the decadent lifestyle of wealthy young Iranians in one of the world's most socially conservative countries.
After launching in September on Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing platform, @RichKidsofTehran quickly amassed more than 100,000 followers by posting hundreds of pictures of fast luxury cars, house parties in gated neighborhoods and attractive young women in slinky dresses.
The account, a spinoff of the original U.S.-based hit @RichKidsofInstagram, also has showcased people drinking what appears to be alcohol and young women flouting Muslim custom by not wearing hijabs, or head scarves.
Alcohol has been strictly forbidden in the country since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and laws mandate that women dress modestly and keep their hair covered with a hijab while in public -- although it appears that most of the Instagram photos were taken on private property.
In a post that has since been deleted, the account's creators defended their photos and the idea behind them.
"We have changed the way the world looks at us," they wrote in the post, which was widely shared by media outlets before it was pulled. "People (in Iran) don't use camels for transportation but some choose to use 'Italian and German horses.'
"We did not have any bad intentions and we are not against anyone. We wanted to show the luxurious side of Tehran to the world."
One social media expert has a slightly different interpretation.
"There are conservative elements in Iran that would frown upon these images because they show young people in bikinis and others drinking alcohol. What I see are images of kids who are rebelling against the social norms that they grew up with," said Jamie Turner, co-author of "How to Make Money with Social Media" and CEO of 60 Second Marketer.
"Instagram is really a megaphone for people in repressed social and political environments to stand up and say, 'I'm here, I'm alive, and I want to rebel against the social and cultural values of my parents' generation,'" Turner said.
That megaphone was silenced somewhat when the @RichKidsofTehran account was shut down in October, just a month after it launched.
Although the Iranian government has tried to block access to social media sites in the past, there's no evidence that happened in this case. Only Instagram, or one of its users, can delete an individual account.
A spokesperson for Instagram confirmed that the account is no longer active. The spokesperson would not comment further about the account and referred CNN to Instagram's policy that includes rules against posting unauthorized photos.
"When we receive an intellectual property infringement claim from a rights' owner, we take appropriate action, which could include removal of the content," the policy states.
But @RichKidsofTehran would not die. The original inspired a number of copycat accounts, all showing young affluent partyers purporting to live in Iran. Some of the accounts attract thousands of followers and are still active.
Not long after the original account was shut down, it apparently resurfaced with a new name: @RichKidsofTeh. Its creators sent a Twitter message referring fans to the new Instagram account, which now credits the person who took the photos.
Meanwhile, the identity of whoever was behind the original account remains a mystery. CNN sent messages to the email address listed on the account and received some cryptic responses.
"We are putting our lives at danger for this," said one message.
"You can record my voice ... God knows what can happen to me," said another, in response to a request for a phone interview. The respondent agreed to phone CNN at an appointed time, but the call never came.
When CNN later sent an email asking whether the account's creators had posted content without people's permission, we received this response: "You think your (sic) clever don't you. NO COMMENT."