Twitter and Iran
The latest Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, exchanged tweets with the Twitter Chairman Jack Dorsey in October 2013. Observers suspect this may be the beginning stage of the lift on Iran’s Twitter ban. Rouhani has been making use of Twitter since he came to power in August 2013. The exchange began when Dorsey tweeted the following question at Rouhani, “Are citizens of Iran able to read your tweets?” To which Rouhani’s official handle stated that he was working to ensure that Iran’s citizens would, “comfortably b able 2 access all info globally as is their right”. This response from President Rouhani was then retweeted by Dorsey, who also thanked him, offering Twitter’s assistance in making his statement a reality.
Twitter and Facebook were banned in Iran back in 2009, during the upheaval surrounding the then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The ban was announced as it was found that opposition activists were attempting to use these social media platforms to organise demonstrations.
The tweet based exchange between Dorsey and Rouhani is not the only tweet from the new president which has turned some heads. In September 2013 a tweet from Rouhani’s official account caused shock among the international community. The tweet in question was extending a greeting to the Jewish community in acknowledgement of the then forthcoming Jewish New Year. Furthermore the tweet expressed a tone of conciliation demonstrating a departure from Ahmadeinjad’s anti-Semitic policies.
The relatively moderate Rouhani has promised to ease Iran’s internet censorship as part of his election campaign. He has also been particularly outspoken in his criticism for what he termed Iran’s “security atmosphere”. During a recent interview with CNN Rouhani stated he claimed to fulfil his commitment to deliver his campaign promises during “the next few months”. He further stated that opening Iran to information was high on this agenda. In a statement Rouhani said, “there are large social networks at a global level around today and I believe that all human beings have a right, and all nations have a right, to use them.”
This is not the first time an Iranian senior official has made use of social media despite the ban for ordinary citizens. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has a number of accounts in his name on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. It is thought that these accounts are run with Khamenei’s permission.
In addition the entirety of Rouhani’s cabinet have set up personal Facebook accounts. This move seems to mark a watershed in Iranian internet policy and is part of the new president demonstrating his willingness to uphold the promises of his election campaign. Let’s hope Twitter and Iran have tweet success with freedom of speech!