Twitter offers Iranian protestors outlet to the world

Social media sites at core of debate as government threatens further crackdowns

Twitter and other social media Web sites are becoming a battleground in the protests over Iran’s disputed presidential election June 12.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has ordered people to remove any information that could “create tension” from Twitter and other sites or face legal action, according to the United Kingdom-based Telegraph.

That follows on the heels of the U.S. State Department’s intervention over the weekend, when it asked Twitter to reschedule an upgrade to the network so that Iranians could continue to tweet about the crisis. The upgrade, which required service to be cut off temporarily, was rescheduled to 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday, or 1:30 a.m. in Iran.

However, even though State officials confirmed they asked the company to change the upgrade time, Twitter founder Biz Stone said the company made the change without the government’s involvement.

Online social media sites have become a key source of information in Iran since the election, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected amid claims that the vote was rigged. The Iranian government barred foreign media from leaving their offices to report on the protests, shut down telephone networks and threatened to wage war on social media, Bild.com reported.

The events underscore the growing importance of social media and government’s interest in it. Time magazine posits that this is one more reason why Twitter is the medium of the moment.

Mashable.com points out that the State Department’s request likely resulted from the fact that it has been using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to keep up with events in Iran. The United States has no official relations with Iran and can’t get directly involved.

A GCN cover story in April goes into detail about agencies’ growing use of Twitter.

Meanwhile, other Twitter users have discussed ways of helping Iranian protesters by getting users outside the country to change their location to Tehran, in hope of confusing Iranian authorities. But Evgeny Morozov at NPR thinks that approach could backfire.

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