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Say what? Iranian government ministers join Facebook

Although the social network is banned in the Middle Eastern country, it appears the country's officials can sign up, friend one another, and "like" each other's posts.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's official Facebook page.
Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

As tension simmers in the Middle East with the US deciding whether to use military force against Syria, a friendly initiative is starting up in the neighboring country of Iran.

Newly elected President Hasan Rouhani is encouraging his government staff and ministers to join Facebook in an endeavor called government-as-Facebook Friends, according to the Associated Press.

Since taking office last month, Rouhani has tried to distance himself from his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Besides having his own Facebook page and urging his staff to follow suit, Rouhani also has been more open about Iran's presence on the Internet.

The problem, however, is that Facebook and large swaths of the Internet are banned for most everyone else in Iran.

Facebook was originally banned in Iran after protesters took to social media in 2009 to spread word of opposition against Ahmadinejad. The Iranian government has also had a contentious relationship with other social media, news sites, and e-mail hosts. Over the last few years, the government has blocked access to major international news sites, Google's search engine, and YouTube. Several times last year, Iran even cut off access to the Internet.

While inviting government ministers to join Facebook could be a sign that social networking and Internet restrictions are easing in the country, Iran's head of the supervisory board on Internet content Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei said that's not the case.

"It is not the time for lifting filters" on Facebook and other sites, he told the Associated Press.