While Iran’s population is banned from accessing Twitter, the country’s top leaders do not bother to set the example and live a near-love relationship with the social network.
To access Twitter in the Islamic Republic, it is necessary to use programs that circumvent the geographical restrictions, known as VPN, but despite the limitations, many Iranians have accounts in the social network, including President Hassan Rohani himself.
The dual situation creates a continuous debate between the reformist and conservative sectors of the Islamic Republic. Conservatives worry about the “western infiltration” of the country through social networks, which also has blocked Facebook and YouTube.
This dispute, as well as the incongruity between the censorship and the use of the tool by the authorities, can be closed thanks to the efforts of the new communication minister, young Mohammad Javad Jahromi.
He recently announced negotiations with Twitter to “solve the problems” and unblock the social network in Iran, a decision that, however, depends on the Supreme Council for Cyberspace, which includes members of the country’s most conservative wing.
“Twitter is not an immoral environment that needs to be blocked,” said the minister, who claimed that the censorship adopted in 2009 occurred because it was considered that the social network had “interfered in internal affairs of the country.”
This year, social networks such as Twitter were used to a large extent to call for major protests by the Green Movement against a possible return to power of former ultraconservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013).
Despite his role in blocking Twitter, Ahmadinejad opened an account on the social network earlier this year. The @ Ahmadinejad1956 profile has more than 34,000 followers and in it the former president describes himself in a very American style as a husband, father, president and mayor.
In turn, Rohani maintains two profiles. One, addressed to the international public, where he writes messages in English, and another, to the national public, in which he is in Farsi.
Both accounts were opened in 2013 when Rohani was first elected president of Iran. Four years later, the moderate leader had 531,000 followers in the Farsi profile and 693,000 in the English account.
Rohani expressed in several of his speeches his opposition to censorship on the internet, although at the moment it cannot win this battle of the conservative sectors.
After taking office for a second term in August, the president once again insisted that it was not necessary “to sacrifice freedom for security.”
Who also has a profile on Twitter is the head of Iranian diplomacy, Mohammad Javad Zarif. One of the last messages of the chancellor alerted the United States that the nuclear agreement signed between the country and the Group 5 + 1 – USA, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, plus Germany – is not negotiable.
Even Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has accounts on the social network, with hundreds of thousands of followers in different profiles posting messages in Farsi, English, Arabic, and French.
According to an Iranian activist with more than 8,000 followers on Twitter, who preferred to remain anonymous, it makes “no sense” to maintain censorship over the social network if leaders use it.
“Almost everyone has already accepted that social networks have a strong influence on the population and therefore can not be ignored,” said the young man in an interview with Agencia Efe.
“Our authorities use them so much to communicate with the Iranians who chose this medium to relate to people from other countries,” the activist added.
Although the Iranian leaders cannot be indifferent to Twitter, he did not want to evaluate if the censorship will end.
“We have not been able to predict what will happen,” he said, noting that it was important for some sectors of the country to control any source that was susceptible to “immorality or subversion.”