Some Iranians were able to access their Facebook and Twitter accounts yesterday for the first time in four years due to a glitch in the government firewall.
Social media have been banned in Iran since 2009 when they were used to organise protests against the government. The suddenly freed access to these services on Monday evening has thus been seen by some in the first moments as a sign of the government lifting the ban.
However, Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, Iran’s secretary of a state committee tasked with monitoring and filtering Internet websites, said technical difficulties with some Iranian Internet service providers (ISP) had allowed the access, maintaining the government will investigate the breach.
"The lack of a filter on Facebook last night was apparently due to technical problems and the technological committee is investigating this issue," Khoramabadi was quoted by Mehr news agency as saying.
"We are investigating to see which of these companies has done this," he said, referring to the Iranian ISPs.
Hopes of the Iranians that the state’s attitude to social media could eventually relax have been growing since the President Hassan Rouhani took office last month.
Officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, have created Facebook and Twitter profiles, fuelling optimism among some Iranians that the sites would soon be unblocked for them.
Currently, many use proxy servers to trick the system into believing they live elsewhere to access their social media accounts.
Arash Tajik, an IT administrator in Tehran, said he thought the blip, which meant he could access Facebook without a proxy server at his office on Monday evening but not from his home on Tuesday, might be a test.
"They are testing what will happen if they remove the filter, and whether they can control the situation or not," Tajik said.
Presidnet Rouhani has pledged to relax political and social restrictions in Iran, which were ramped up after the disputed election in 2009 sparked protests that were often organised via social media. Several dissidents and activists have been put in jail or forced to leave Iran since.
But any move to ease control will first have to be approved by the ruling establishment of conservative clerics and security officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.