Carol Hills. Iran is a country of contradictions. That's something you might have heard before if you follow news out of the country. There a strict rules, but many Iranians find ways to get around them. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are officially banned, but this year saw an explosion of users, including Iranian officials and even Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and that has struck a raw nerve among some Iranians as the World's Shirin Jaafari explains.
Shirin Jaafari: Here's how the thinking goes. Social media websites are designed by foreign enemies intent on corrupting the minds of Iranians and so they should be banned. OK. That's the official thinking. But in reality it's a completely different story. Since Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, took office in June, he and his ministers, along with many others in the government, have signed on to social media websites on mass.
Ali Bangi: They, like any other people, use social media as well and they are ignoring the rules.
Jaafari: Ali Bangi is director of a Toronto-based group called ASL 19. That's a reference to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights,
Bangi: People basically are, I think they use circumvention tools, they break the rules and they gain access to social media. Khamenei, the supreme leader, does the same too.
Jaafari: Bangi and his team help Iranians get around internet filtering. He says the internet and social media websites have created an [??] for hardliners in Iran.
Bangi: It's a threat in two ways. Internally it would facilitate social mobilization, people use social media to organize themselves. They also see the internet as an external national security threat, so they believe that these platforms should be locked.
Jaafari: But he says they also see social media as an opportunity to engage with an audience, both inside and outside the country. They know it's not difficult to get around internet filtering and that many Iranians do. So why not engage with them? And it's something both hardliners and reformists have in common. Journalist Nazila Fathi says Iran's president and foreign minister have especially been adept at using social media.
Nazila Fathi: Both of them are using Facebook and Twitter for two different audiences. They're writing in Persian on Facebook, clearly aimed at Persian speakers, and using Twitter in English and clearly they're aiming for an English-speaking audience outside the country.
Jaafari: The foreign minister Javad Zarif, has even used Facebook as something of a diary, posting regular updates with personal details.
Fathi: Zarif is showing a very human face on his Facebook page. For instance, just recently his mother just passed away and he wrote about the pain of losing his mother. And these are things that bring an official closer to the people.
Jaafari: That post prompted a message of condolence from Alan Eyre. He's the Persian Language Spokesman for the US State Department Another interesting exchange happened in October when Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, asked President Hassan Rouhani if the citizens of Iran are able to read his tweets. Rouhani tweeted back not yet, but he's working on it. Meanwhile, Iranians are not happy to see their leaders so openly using websites that are banned for everyone else. Here's Nazila Fathi again.
Fathi: It sends a very bad message both to people inside the country and outside the country how the values are different for government officials and for ordinary people.
Jaafari: Now, to be fair, there have been very public discussions in Iran about lifting the ban for everyone.
Jaafari: Here a technology expert argues on national TV that social media sites are great ways to access information and that the government shouldn't fear a more educated and savvy public. But so far the government doesn't seem to be listening, only tweeting. For The World, I'm Shirin Jaafari.