Hamid Tehrani and CNN report that Facebook is up again in Iran. Berkman’s new Herdict Reporter tells us that over the last few days Facebook was indeed inaccessible to some users in Iran, but, reflecting the distributed filtering model that Iran seems to employ, it was still accessible by some users depending on their ISP. These days I always go straight to Herdict to see what actual users in country are saying about filtering in real time instead of relying solely on press reports, and I’m deeply appreciative of the users in Iran that give us reports of what is blocked. For more on filtering in Iran check out Hamid’s excellent overview at Global Voices. As we’ve cataloged on this blog over the last couple months, it seems that filtering of Internet content by political threats like former president Khatami has been part of an overt strategy by the government.
A number of blogs and traditional media outlets, including those in Iran, reported that Facebook was blocked by Ahmadinejad in an attempt to thwart his more net savvy opponent Mousavi’s online campaign–although Ahmadinejad now denies it. Hamid has been doing a wonderful series on the use of social media by the Presidential candidates including reformists like Mousavi as well as Ahmadinejad and the least effective online campaigner, former Revolution Guard leader Mohsen Rezai. Unfortunately, the campaign has become far less interesting since former President Khatami dropped out in favor of Mousavi, but many speculate he was pressured to drop out since he was a larger threat to Ahmadinejad than Mousavi.
In the end, the Facebook debacle is another black eye on the election process in Iran, which has elements of a democratic election but falls far short of minimal ‘free and fair’ standards due to, first and foremost, the ability of small body of clerics, the Guardian Council, to approve or reject candidates, to say nothing of the limits on free speech and political organization in Iran. Let’s hope that the apparent easing of tensions between the US and Iran leads to an opening in the political process in the country. A smart first move might be for the Obama administration to ease restrictions on US social media providers who have users in Iran.