The social media sites, blocked for four years, were available in at least some parts of the country Monday, according to multiple local reports, tweets and updates. They were available via multiple service providers. No official announcement was made, however, leading some observers to speculate that the access could be a technical glitch. (Normally you’d see the government-imposed screenshot above when trying to access Facebook.com in Iran.)
But, then again, granting access would also make sense. Iranian officials have been moving in this direction for some time. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been on Facebook since December and on Instagram since August 2012. Newly elected president Hassan Rouhani has described Internet censorship as “futile.”
Rouhani started tweeting vigorously in June. Meanwhile, the Twitter account of the Iranian foreign minister was verified after some controversy late last week. A state committee, rather than the president, would have had to take the decision to unblock the services, but no doubt Rouhani wields some influence there.
Many tech-savvy Iranians have been accessing social networks despite the blackout, via encrypted VPN networks. An Iranian police chief said in January that the country was developing “intelligent software to control social networking websites” — clamping down on posts and tweets used to organize anti-government rallies or spread dissent.
In other words, Iran may have decided it’s a lot easier to control dissidents by letting them on social media without a private VPN — all the better to see what the mood of the country actually is.
Still, Iranians were thrilled to be rejoining the international community on social media.