TEHRAN -- A new Facebook fan page claiming to belong to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was launched on the social networking site earlier this week.
So far, spokespeople for Iran’s 73-year-old head of state have not acknowledged the page, but there is good reason to believe that, like earlier-established Instagram and Twitter accounts, it does indeed belong to Khamenei.
While many sites, including Facebook, are officially blocked in Iran, many citizens are able to get around the restrictions by using virtual private networks (VPNs). In some ways, the growing use of VPNs may make it easier to access Facebook from within Iran now than an any time since it was first blocked, just days before the 2009 presidential election.
Many Iranians say they are not surprised that Khamenei would decide to join the social networking site. “Why shouldn’t he have a Facebook account?” asked 26-year-old secretary, Azadeh. “The rest of us do.”
It would be virtually impossible to judge the number of Facebook users in the Islamic Republic, since the vast majority of Iranians access the site through foreign servers – only some government offices have access to the unfiltered Internet – but there are believed to be several million active users inside the country.
“The officials know Iranian youth all use Facebook. It’s the best way to reach us,” said Sima, a 27-year-old photographer. “I think it’s actually a very smart move.”
The page, less than a week old, has already attracted over 16,000 likes. So far, however runs it has only five posted items, each of them generating hundreds to thousands of comments. Surprisingly, no one seems to be filtering out negative comments, some of which are quite graphic.
The most recent post, from earlier today, is also the first in English. It's a translation of an excerpt from a speech he gave on the "Islamic Awakening," which is Tehran's term for "Arab Spring." In it, he says, "The enemies are afraid of the phrase 'Islamic Awakening.' They are trying not to let the phrase 'Islamic Awakening' be used to refer to the current great movement in the region. Why are they doing this? It is because they tremble with fear when they see genuine Islam."