Tech Check

Twitter Comes Of Age, Plays A Role In Iranian Election


With tensions beginning to broil on the streets of Tehran, impeded journalists and citizens looking to get their messages out to the world are relying on the micro-blogging site Twitter, where even 140-character messages can carry some impact on the world's stage.

Iranian officials have essentially pulled the plug on news organizations trying to cover the presidential election controversy, forcing foreign journalists to rely on new technology to get their coverage out. Cellphone service was cut off during the weekend, restored Sunday, but users still couldn't text from their handsets. Some websites have been blocked, satellite internet connections disrupted. And while reporters fumble about, trying to maneuver amid the Iranian government's oppression, Iranian citizens are turning to the web, and sites like Facebook and Twitter to keep the world informed.

In fact, Twitter apparently became so important to the process that US State Department officials are confirming today they made a request to the site to postpone a planned system maintenance that would have taken its service down for a while Monday night. Eliminating the service, even for a while, would have silenced an important outlet for Iranians trying to share what was happening in their country. Never underestimate the ingenuity of desperate folks trying to be heard. Bloggers are using proxy servers to work around government censors, and thanks to Twitter, it's working.

Heady stuff for the internet upstart with still no profit path and only 30 or so full time staffers in San Francisco. Nonetheless, Twitter has signed up millions of users and has been the center of so much takeover speculation involving everyone from Yahoo and Google to Microsoft and even Apple. Scott Budman, the tech reporter at our local affiliate KNTV (NBC-11, San Francisco) talked with an Iranian journalist who told him Twitteroffers a voice to people who may not have had a voice before.

"People who have been silent forever are coming forward," says Omid Memarian, "saying we want our voices to be heard."

It's not just those short messages, called Tweets, either. Through TwitPic, users are posting still photographs as well. It may not be the in-depth coverage so many in the world crave regarding Tehran's turmoil, but it's something. In fact, one Twitterer named persiankiwi has attracted 10,000 followers, adding 2,000 since Monday, according to CBC News.

The Iranian government has cracked down on just about every communication outlet so far, so it might just be a matter of time before the link to Twitter gets severed too. In the meantime, the quirky site looking for a footing above and beyond a social-networking curiosity may have found some traction in giving a voice to what could have been silent suffering. Just think how much clearer our picture could have been of Tiananmen Squarehad students had access to something like Twitter.

In the meantime, the world watches, waits, and now thanks to Twitter, reads.

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