When will Iran unblock social networks?
Iranian users cannot expect in the short term to open Facebook or Twitter without circumvention tools.
Hassan Rouhani is the first Iranian president that has a Twitter account and the Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zairf, is the first politician in Iran that has a verified account on Twitter. In addition, Zarif is active on Facebook and posts his daily reports regularly.
Rouhani and his cabinet members have been active on social networks whilst most of them like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in Iran. It means Iranian users must use circumvention tools to access Facebook and Twitter and say hello to Mr. Zarif.
Most Iranian people have recently been optimistic due to the government’s use of social networks and that this would ease the censorship of social networks. For example, on 16 September 2013, many Iranian users reported that they had access to Facebook and Twitter without any circumvention tools. This incident which was due to the ‘technical glitch’, fuelled the theory that the government had removed the filtering of Facebook and Twitter.
Iran has censored the Internet since 2002/03 and invested millions of dollars to build the filtering system. In addition, after the controversial presidential election in 2009, the Iranian authorities have attacked and accused social networks such as Facebook and Twitter of being spying tools for the Western intelligence services.
Therefore, it is very optimistic that someone thinks the Iranian regime would eliminate or even ease Internet censorship in the short term. It means no one can expect that Iranian users have easy access to Facebook or Twitter without using circumvention tools because the filtering of Internet is not solely motivated by politics.
The purpose of filtering system is twofold: political and economic.
Internet censorship has been a good tool to suppress opposition and all dissidents by blocking their websites/weblogs based on Iran’s Cyber Crime Law. There is no kind of guarantee for anyone even though the website/weblog is registered on the whitelist. For instance, many weblogs that set up by pro Ahmadinejad and anti Larijani brothers have been blocked or shut down.
Moreover, there is a huge black market for VPNs in Iran. According to the BizNews website, Iranian users spend around 360 billion tomans (120 million USD) per year on VPNs and SOCKs. This level spend on VPNs/SOCKs is conducted openly whereas selling circumvention tools is illegal in Iran.
As a consequence, filtering will not be lifted soon although it maybe achievable in the long term. For instance, the Rouhani government might lift censorship on the internet at the end of first term. The only certainty that Iranian users cannot expect in the short term to open Facebook or Twitter without circumvention tools.