Will Rouhani`s administration pass the Facebook test?

Photo: Will Rouhani`s administration pass the Facebook test? / Iran

Baku, Azerbaijan, March 3

By Umid Niayesh - Trend:

Seven months have passed since President Hassan Rouhani took office in Iran, and without any significant changes in and or reforms to social issues.

Rouhani's administration has mainly focused on economic issues and country's disputed nuclear program.

Bans on social networks including Facebook and Twitter continue despite all promises and pro- Facebook statements from Rouhani's ministers who are already active members of the social networks.

Rouhani's administration has not even raised the issue in the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content. The Committee which is headed by the conservative politician and prosecutor general of Iran, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei is responsible for identifying sites that carry forbidden content and report that information to the Telecommunications Company of Iran and other major ISPs for blocking.

The Iranian authorities banned Facebook and Twitter in the summer of 2009, when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election victory sparked massive protests that gained momentum with the help of organizers who used social media channels.

Filtering doesn't mean Iranians are totally cut off from the world's most popular social websites. Visitors from Iran are able to log on both Twitter and Facebook via proxies - special IP addresses, which serve as a hub through which internet requests are processed.

On March 2, Iranian media outlets quoted, culture minister, Ali Jannati as saying the ministry has requested the committee to hold a meeting for lifting the filter on Facebook. Six members from the 13-member Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content are president Rouhani`s ministers.

Jannati went on to say that Iran cannot keep isolating itself from the world. He also remarked that resolving the issue will take time and underlining that sooner or later this restriction must be lifted.

It is not the first time that Rouhani's ministers made pro- freeing Facebook statements, however it is the first time that the issue will be discussed in the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content.

It seems that Jannati, himself is not so hopeful about the decision which will come out from the committee. Recently, the committee made decision to block access to the WeChat application that allows smart phone users to use social networks.

Iranian media outlets quoted managing director of Iran's Telecommunication Infrastructure Company, Mahmoud Khosravi that only the representative of the Information and Communications Technology Ministry in the committee opposed this decision.

Jannai has tried to convince the conservatives that while "4 million Iranians are using Facebook" despite bans, continuing the ban would be "ridiculous."

"If we step back, we will see a lot of ridiculous bans which were made in the first years of the Islamic Revolution such as bans against video players and fax machines." Jannati argued.

Earlier in Dec. 2013, secretary of the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content Abdolsamad Khorramabadi said that "Facebook is Islamic Republic's enemy and is managed by "Zionists." He also criticized Rouhani`s ministers due to their membership in this "espionage tool" which contains "offensive contents."

The conservative judge is not alone in Iran's administration. Many hardliners in the country also think the ban on social networks, which they call it "CIA and Israel's spying tools" should be kept on.

It seems that the Facebook issue is Hassan Rouhani's first exam regarding social issues. For now, he has successfully managed to carry the nuclear negotiations, despite harsh opposition from inside the country. However no one can promise that extremists in Iran will step back from social issues, as well as those of foreign policy.

Will the moderate members of the Committee be able to convince their conservative partners to support lifting of the ban on social networks, and not to determine it as "Criminal Web Content"?

The upcoming results of the committee meeting will probably shed some light on the issue.

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