By Golnaz Esfandiar, RFE/RL
The debate in Iran regarding the censorship of Facebook - the most popular social-networking site among Iranians - continues. Not that long ago, Iranian authorities were describing Facebook as a "Zionist" tool used by foreign intelligence services for spying purposes. But under the government of new President Hassan Rohani, Facebook has undergone something of a redemption.
Facebook presented as a tool of "soft war" during a military parade in Isfahan in April
Related Story: Iran Turns Its Guns On Facebook
Rohani campaigned on a platform of moderation and spoke out against censorship, promising more openness if he was elected.
Now several of his cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have joined Facebook, and other officials have spoken out in favor of it.
On September 19, Iran's chief of police, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, said there is nothing wrong with what he called the "targeted" and "service-oriented" use of Facebook.
He said there are still many risks and potential dangers involved in using the social-networking site, but a public ban is unnecessary.
A few days earlier, he said the government had not changed its mind about unblocking Facebook, but added that the issue might come up at an upcoming meeting of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, which Rohani plans to attend.
The increasing use of Facebook by government officials has intensified calls for the site to be unblocked.
Many Iranians have long demanded an easing of online filtering by the state and better and faster access to the Internet.
Communications and Information Technology Minister Mahmud Vaezi said this week that he didn't see a problem with people joining social-media sites that are "healthy."
He said he did not have a Facebook page but confirmed that some of his colleagues do.
Iran's Communications and Information Technology Minister Mahmud Vaezi
"They express their views on their [Facebook] pages, and they also like to hear the views of others about them," Vaezi said in a September 20 interview with the semi-official ISNA news agency.
On September 16, Facebook and Twitter were briefly unblocked in Iran, which prompted joyous reactions from users and increased speculation that Iran's tough censorship policy is changing.
But both websites were quickly reblocked and some semi-official news agencies reported that a glitch was behind the sudden access.
Copyright (c) 2013 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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