No wonder the authorities wanted Facebook banned. But Iranian Facebook users are heaving a sigh of relief today after access to the site was reopened on Tusday morning. So what was all the fuss about? One of our Observers in Tehran explains the election debates raging on the online social network and why President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad probably isn't a big fan.
Although Ahmadinejad denies having ordered the shutdown, the reformist-leaning Iranian news agency Ilna, whose site was inaccessible at the time of publication, said that government representatives orchestrated the censorship.
Iran, which has a population of more 70 million, has a strong online community with around 21 million Internet users. Pro-reform candidates for June's presidential election are seen as following in Barack Obama's footsteps by using the Internet as much as possible in campaigning.
And it seems to be working. Many Iranians Web users see the recent ban as a direct attempt at closing down one of reformist candidate Mirhossein Mousavi's platforms. While Mousavi has more than 8,000 supporters on his Facebook profile, Ahmadinejad doesn't even have an account. There is however, a group entitled "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad", which already has 45,000 members.
This post was compiled with help from one of our Observers for Iran, Omid Habibinia.
Picture by "Samar".
Shohreh, pictured, is a 23-year-old art student from Tehran. She tells us about election developments on Facebook:
I usually start my day with Facebook and spend about 18 hours a day online. When I went to log on on Saturday morning however, I found instead a message saying that Facebook had been censored. I was pretty upset, but we knew it would happen sooner or later. Facebook has become really popular in the run-up to the election because it's the only place where we can talk about politics with each other. Everything else is strictly censored.
The "Access denied" message which appeared on Saturday:
Image sent by "Behanm".
Since last month the Iranian Facebook community has been divided into two main groups. It started when supporters of reformist leader Mirhossein Mousavi coloured their profile pictures green in support for him. In response, those supporting a boycott of the election coloured theirs blue. The reformists blame the boycotters for Ahmadinejad's victory in the last election (around 41% of people refused to participate in the second round); while the boycotters detest the reformists because they say that by voting for anybody, you are supporting the Islamic Republic. The movement ended in many online friends being removed from lists.
Screenshot of Iranian profiles coloured depending on political preference:
Sent by Omid Habibinia.
More outrage was caused when pro-Mousavi supporters used a popular radical leftist's song in this video clip they posted on YouTube. The song comes from leftist group the Fedaii Guerrillas, who fought against the Shah's regime. Now Mousavi himself is accused of being one of the main perpetrators in suppressing the far-left opposition in the 1980s, so by using this song the Mousavi supporters caused a great deal of anger on Facebook.
The clip in question:
There also two other groups: supporters of Mehdi Karroubi (another reformist), who colour themselves white, and Ahmadinejad supporters, who colour themselves red. There seem to be lots of both blue and green profiles, not many Karroubi supporters and even fewer reds. Personally, I'm not sure yet whether I'll boycott the election like last term or vote for a reformist. For now I'm just happy to be able to follow the debate on Facebook.