Last week we saw the Twitter accounts of Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, and the White House exchanging and responding to each other’s tweets after an historic phone call between US President Obama and Rouhani.
In fact, Rouhani’s Twitter account has been a real trendsetter when it comes using Twitter to engage, and not just with politicians. Rouhani often retweets people or responds to them directly. Prior to his victory in the Iranian presidential election in June, Rouhani’s account responded to and interacted with the Iran News Now Twitter account.
And it’s not just the act of tweeting that makes his interactions on Twitter amazing. It’s also the content. He has tweeted on and broken many of the taboos of the Iranian government, discussing topics ranging from women’s rights, to economics, to Internet freedom.
But many have rightly raised the point that Iran filters Twitter, Facebook and many other sites on the Internet, even as Iranian officials like President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others use these tools to engage with the world. A few weeks ago Twitter and Facebook were mysteriously unblocked in Iran, triggering a flurry of speculation that Iran was moving away from the filternet regime. But this was a short-lived phenomenon. On the following day the filters were back in place, hinting at what is possibly an internal struggle for control of Internet filetering in Iran.
Jack Dorsey, one of the original founders of Twitter, tweeted “@HassanRouhani Good evening, President. Are citizens of Iran able to read your tweets?” today:
@HassanRouhani Good evening, President. Are citizens of Iran able to read your tweets?
— Jack Dorsey (@jack) October 1, 2013
And sure enough, President Rouhani responded. “Evening, @Jack. As I told @camanpour, my efforts geared 2 ensure my ppl’ll comfortably b able 2 access all info globally as is their #right.”:
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) October 1, 2013
Rouhani referenced his interview with Christian Amanpour in which he said that Iranians should be able to access all information globally as a right.
This is a big and bold promise, and even the fact that the Iranian President is mentioning it is a big deal. If he is able to deliver on this promise it will be a tangible change in Iran, one that will act as a catalyst for even more profound changes.