'Iranian president' engages with Twitter's Jack Dorsey

Hassan Rouhani's Twitter page Iran's newly elected president has been using Twitter as a diplomatic tool

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A Twitter account used by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has exchanged tweets with Twitter's chairman, fuelling speculation Iran's social media ban might be lifted.

Jack Dorsey tweeted the account on Tuesday, asking: "Are citizens of Iran able to read your tweets?"

The reply said he was working to ensure they would "comfortably b able 2 access all info globally as is their right".

Mr Dorsey replied: "Please let us know how we can help to make it a reality."

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are banned in Iran, although many Iranians bypass restrictions using virtual private networks (VPNs).

Analysis

The exchange of tweets between Hassan Rouhani and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has caused much speculation.

But does this mean that social media will be unblocked in Iran soon? The short answer is not necessarily.

Mr Rouhani's preferred language on Twitter is English, not Farsi. He seems more eager to engage with the outside world than send a message back home.

And here lies the contradiction that most observers, including Iranian citizens, seem willing to ignore.

While President Rouhani and his government ministers are using Twitter and Facebook, access to social networking sites is banned for Iranian citizens.

We will have to wait to see how much of Mr Rouhani's rhetoric results in action. He will certainly have tough days ahead if he is to prioritise his promise of free access to the internet.

Authorship debate

Iran's new administration, which came to power in August, has taken to social media, using it as a diplomatic tool to engage with the rest of the world.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has an active Facebook page, as does Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh.

Mr Rouhani, whose campaign slogan was "moderation and wisdom", has had a presence on Twitter since running for election.

He made headlines for apparently posting a New Year message to Iranian Jews, and for chronicling his recent groundbreaking telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama.

But there has been some confusion over who is actually operating Mr Rouhani's Twitter account.

The president's Twitter handle has not been authenticated by Twitter, which puts a blue tick on profiles it confirms are genuine.

After Mr Rouhani's Jewish New Year tweet, his office told reporters that the account was controlled by those close to the president but that he did not personally author the tweets.

The BBC's Persian service said that exclusive pictures and news alerts tweeted by Mr Rouhani's account suggested it was run by the people in close proximity to Iran's president.

Critics have claimed Iran's reformist politicians are being intentionally vague about who controls their social media accounts, so they can disavow messages that anger hardliners.

Jack Dorsey Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was pushed out of the company in 2008, but returned in 2011
Towards reform

The Iranian president has previously voiced his opposition to Iran's internet censorship, but does not have the lone authority to lift the ban.

Iranians were briefly granted access to Facebook and Twitter last month, but authorities claimed the incident was a technical glitch.

However recent developments have indicated that Iranian authorities are easing their grip on internet censorship.

Iranians accessing a filtered website without using a VPN used to be confronted with a message notifying them that the site had been filtered for "criminal" content.

Now, all surfers get is an index page with links to domestic websites and a "no access" message.

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