Iran Warms To Facebook – But Leadership Only

iran social media

Iran’s top communications official is apparently an avid Facebook user, making comments this week that sounded an optimistic tone about social media in the restrictive country.

“I have been a member and I’m pretty involved [with Facebook]. I keep posting things and I always use the comments I receive,” Mahmoud Vaezi, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, said.

He hailed the interaction he received, saying of the comments on his post that they are “very diverse.”

“They write about whatever they feel like it!” Vaezi said. “I mean, it doesn’t have any framework or accounting. It all depends on how the guy leaving the comment feels at that time! But overall, it’s a good thing.”

Sounds a little bit like freedom of speech and liberal democracy. But, of course, Iranian officials wouldn’t be advocating for that.

But Ali Jannati, the country’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance denied that Facebook use was a crime, using some confusing verbal gymnastics to explain.

“Membership in Facebook is not a crime,” Jannati said. “There is a problem because Facebook is blocked and breaking the block to access it is a crime. Otherwise, being on Facebook itself is not a crime.”

Which, of course, begs the question of why exactly it’s blocked in the first place.

But for the Iranian leadership, social media seems to be the cool new thing. Vaezi isn’t the only Facebook-happy member of the government. Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, also has a page, and several others purporting to be officials’ pages have also popped up even though they often are followed by denials.

Zarif, however, has owned up to his social media use – his Twitter account, for example, is verified. And while it might be blocked at home, it certainly could be a useful tool in foreign relations.

Take, for example, the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who came into office last summer amid a wave of hope that his more moderate tone might signal a shift in the country’s policies, at home and abroad. His alleged Twitter account had received a good deal of attention for some head-turning tweets since Rouhani became president.

But it was revealed last month that those social media musings, which include a Facebook page, are “written by my friends.”

Vaezi, the communications minister, held out hope that Rouhani might make the leap himself soon: “Incidentally, the President told me, ‘if you think it’s a useful thing, I will also join it in future, God willing.”

Whether that would be a significant opening up of Iran or just mean a slight expansion of the leadership’s tight-knit social media circle remains to be seen.

[photo credit: Asia Society]


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