IRAN: Authorities block Facebook amid heated election campaign
May 24, 2009 | 9:50 am
What the Iranian authorities give, they can easily take away, as shown by the government's seesawing attitude toward Facebook, the popular social-networking website that it apparently ordered blocked to ordinary Web surfers in recent days.
There's no official word, but most assume it's to try to minimize the effect the site might have on the outcome of the critical June 12 presidential elections.
Iranian Internet-service providers had long banned Facebook, making it inaccessible to dial-up and broadband users. Government officials were fearful it could be used by intelligence officials abroad to recruit operatives or by activists to organize anti-government protests.
But in January, after watching the way activists were using Facebook to promote opposition to the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, Iranian authorities apparently warmed up to the quirky website and quietly lifted the ban.
Thousands of Iranians signed up to use Facebook, many of them "friending" other Iranians in the Diaspora.
Tech-savvy Iranians quickly began using the website to organize events in support of candidates in the upcoming presidential elections.
According to the Iranian Labor News Agency, the site was proving especially successful in pushing the candidacy of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the most liberal of the candidates challenging President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The daily newspaper Ettemad Melli said Sunday the judiciary order to ban the website was quickly rescinded, but Iranians are still reporting troubles accessing the site without the help of so-called "filter breakers," which they frequently download.
Twitter, another popular and rapidly growing social-networking tool, also has been filtered out, the Iranian daily Abrar reported Sunday.
It was the second time in recent days that a Middle Eastern country has responded to security worries concerning the popular site.
Earlier, Babylon & Beyond reported on Israeli officials warning that Facebook could be used to lure unsuspecting Israelis into foul play.
Egypt also has cracked down on activists using Facebook to organize against the government.
-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photo: Detail from a Facebook page promoting Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Credit: Borzou Daragahi / Los Angeles Times