Iran Restores Blocks on Twitter, Facebook

Hassan Rouhani President of Iran 2013 P

UPDATED: An official says a "technical glitch" caused temporary access to the social media sites, while others see a sign of debate within the government of new president Hassan Rouhani over how to regulate the media.

Twitter and Facebook are once again blocked in Iran.

On Monday, Internet users in the country discovered that they could access the sites freely after nearly four years of finding them blocked. But by Tuesday, the social media services were again beyond reach.

Iran has kept Facebook and Twitter behind a firewall since 2009, when street protests erupted in the wake of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election and authorities declared that activists were using the social media services to organize. 

The semi-official Mehr news agency on Tuesday quoted Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, an official from Iran's Supreme Council for Cyberspace, which controls the country's Internet regulation, as saying the brief removal of the blocks was a technical failure. 

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During the all-too-short period of Iranian Internet freedom, additional politically sensitive sites were also reportedly available.

“Some other blocked sites are reporting themselves unblocked -- the National Iranian American Council is reporting themselves unblocked as well," Jillian York, a director at civil liberties organization the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Reuters.

Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, has vowed to take a less hardline approach than his predecessor to both domestic and international affairs. Such avowals led some to speculate on Monday that the removal of the blocks was a sign of a more liberal approach to media and entertainment regulation in the country.

After the restoration of the blocks, some, such as the Guardian, suggested that the so-called "glitch" might indicate "increasing internal struggles between groups seeking to reopen Facebook and other social networking sites and hardliners in the establishment, who remain in control of Internet access."

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Last week, Iran reopened its leading film industry guild, the House of Cinema. The organization -- which has been a driving force in the Iranian film community over the years and counts 5,000 film industry professionals as members -- was shut down two years ago by hardliners in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet over allegations that the guild was a hotbed for activist liberal sentiment.

New deputy culture minister Hojatollah Ayoubi was quoted in the local press last week as saying that the reopening of the guild shows the new president's support for Iranian cinema.

"When a cultural issue -- such as the case of the House of Cinema -- becomes political, that means the situation has not been managed properly," he said, according to a state news agency.