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Twitter's role in Iran's drama.

The US State Department asked social-networking site Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance last week to avoid disrupting communications among tech-savvy Iranian citizens as they took to the streets to protest the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The move illustrates the growing influence of online social-networking services as a communications media. Foreign news coverage of the unfolding drama, meanwhile, was limited by Iranian government restrictions barring journalists from "unauthorized" demonstrations. "One of the areas where people are able to get out the word is through Twitter," a senior State Department official said in a conversation with reporters, on condition of anonymity. "They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance and we asked them not to." A White House official said "this wasn't a directive from Secretary of State, but rather was a low-level contact from someone who often talks to Twitter staff.E Twitter did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. It is hard to say how luch twittering is actually going on inside Iran. The tweets circulated by expatriates in the United States tend to be in English ; the Twitter interface does not support the use of Farsi. And though many people may be sending tweets out of Iran, their use inside Iran may be low, some say. "Twitter's impact inside Iran is zero," said Mehdi Yahyanejad, manager of a Farsi-language news site based in Los Angeles. However, an Iranian-American activist in Washington said that tweets from a handful of students have been instrumental in getting information to people outside Iran. "The predominant information is coming from TwitterE since foreign reporters" movement has been limited, she said. "They are relying on Iranians and others who are Twittering to get information out to mainstream media." Users around the world following the election drama in Tehran found that it was listed as the most popular discussion topic on Twitter throughout last week. Many users, logging on from outside Iran, said they changed their accountE[degrees]s location listing to Tehran, in a move to confuse government censors who might be trying to shut down communications from Iran. Iranian expatriates have kept one another apprised of events by forwarding to Facebook "tweets" containing information that often appeared to have originated in Iran. Some information tweeted about planned gatherings, or about the shooting of a protester, has been confirmed by mainstream media. Other reports have been debunked or have proven impossible to verify. In a blog entry, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone cited users in Iran as a reason for delaying "a critical network upgrade" but did not mention any contact from State Department officials. The maintenance, as originally scheduled, would have disrupted Twitter service for users in Tehran. The State DepartmentE[degrees]s request contrasts with recent comments from President Obama saying that the United States would not get involved in the matter. LATWP News Service

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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