State Department intervened with Twitter over Iran

State Department intervened with Twitter over Iran

As many other outlets have remarked, Twitter has been a critical lifeline for news coming out of Iran, with bloggers combining Tweets and grainy cell phone footage for indispensable running coverage (the best example of this has been Andrew Sullivan, who George Packer rightly calls “the number one source for Iran news these days”). The role has been so critical that when Twitter announced a temporary shutdown last night for an important network upgrade, even the State Department asked it to delay the upgrade:

The US government asked Twitter to delay maintenance plans in order to allow Iranians to communicate while their government banned other media following elections, a US official said Tuesday.

The official said the State Department had asked the social networking firm to delay shutting down its service to “highlight to them that this was an important means of communications… in Iran.”

The State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that the Twitter service was all the more important because the Iranian government had shut down other websites, cell phones, and newspapers.

“One of the areas where people are able to get out the word is through Twitter,” the official said. “They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance and we asked them not to.”

Twitter eventually postponed the upgrade until later today. Some might say this is an example of American interference, but, as (ironically) CNN points out, Twitter is just as crucial an information source for the State Department as anyone else:

Because the US has no relations with Iran and does not have an embassy there, it is relying on media reports and the State Department’s Iran Watch Offices in embassies around the world. The largest such offices are in Dubai, Berlin and London, all home to large Iranian expat communities.

But officials say the internet, and specifically social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, are providing the United States with critical information in the face of a crackdown on journalists by Iranian authorities[…]

While officials would not say whether they were communicating with Iranians directly, one senior official noted that the US is learning about certain people being picked up for questioning by authorities through posts on Twitter.

“It is a very good example of where technology is helping,” the official said.