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Facebook was unblocked today in Iran just one day after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad criticized its recent closure.

The popular social-networking site was blocked on May 23 reportedly in order to limit the campaign activities of Ahmadinejad's main challenger, Mir Hossein Musavi, in the June 12 presidential election.

But speaking on May 25, Ahmadinejad said that he would launch an inquiry and hoped to unblock it. The Iranian president also said that he believed in “maximum freedom of expression,” although student activists and women’s rights advocates would likely disagree.

By successfully ordering its unblocking, Ahmadinejad seems to be trying to appeal to young voters and casting himself as a force of moderation. He might even be tapping into the Facebook demographic himself (he already has 7,000 fans in one group.)

Iran's Facebook users seem relieved, although many are certain that the site will be blocked again after the election. Here are a few sample comments:

“Facebook was unblocked :-) ”

“On the order of the president Facebook was unblocked, what do you call this? Naughty boy... Ahmadinejad! I really love you.”

“It comes and goes, when it's blocked people stop breathing, and when it's unblocked breathing becomes easier.”

“Hard to believe.”

“They might be able to censor Facebook and other websites but they can’t stop people’s thoughts and ideas.”

The waltz of blocking and unblocking is all a little academic anyway, as savvy Iranian web users (and there are many of them) use proxy servers and other clever techie tools which allow anonymous access to banned sites.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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