Twitter streams break Iran news dam

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 16 2009 03:06 PM | Updated as of Jun 16 2009 11:06 PM

SAN FRANCISCO – Protestors in Iran used Twitter for battle cries and to spread the word about clashes with police and hardline supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Messages posted on the micro-blogging service, some with links to pictures, streamed from Iran despite reported efforts by authorities there to block news of protests over Ahmadinejad's claim of having been fairly re-elected.

Pictures of wounded or dead people that senders claim were Iranian protestors ricocheted about Twitter and wound up posted at online photo-sharing websites such as Flickr as well as on YouTube.

A protestor was reportedly shot dead during clashes in Tehran as massive crowds of people defied a ban to stage a rally against the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad.

The trouble flared after Ahmadinejad's defeated rival Mir Hossein Mousavi appeared in public for the first time since an election that has sharply divided the nation and triggered protests and rioting.

"Iranelection" was the top Twitter trend of the day, and a message thread led by "Persiankiwi" appeared to be orchestrating hacker attacks on official Iran websites while firing off updates on developments in the streets.

"We are also moving location -- too long here -- is dangerous," Persiankiwi tweeted mid-day Monday.

A subsequent Persiankiwi tweet read: "Attacked in streets by mob on motorbikes with batons -- firing guns into air -- street fires all over town -- roads closed."

Twitter users were also slamming mainstream media outlets for not covering the Iranian election aftermath more intensely.

A "CNNfail" thread at US-based Twitter critiqued the cable news network's coverage throughout the weekend.

"This is all seriously power to the people, in more ways than one," a Twitter member using the screen name "kianarama" tweeted.

Twitter was being used as an international command center by people intent on keeping news from Iran flowing at online social-networking services.

Users shared lists of proxy computer servers that could be used to sidestep Internet traffic blocks in Iran.

Twitter has delayed plans to temporarily shut down the service late Monday for "critical" maintenance, saying its role in sharing news from Iran is too important to interrupt.

"Our network host had planned this upgrade for tonight," Twitter founder Biz Stone said Monday in a message to users.

"However, our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran."

Taking Twitter offline for an hour for maintenance was postponed until Tuesday afternoon, according to Stone.

"In the end, as long as there is a way to communicate at all there is always a way to make messages move and get them out to the broader world," said Erik Hersman, who co-founded "crowd-sourcing" mobile telephone platform Ushadidi in Kenya last year.

"There is always a way to make messages move and get them out to the broader world. Of all the mediums, SMS is just the lowest barrier to entry and the easiest to propagate."

Twitter users can text messages of no more than 140 characters to unlimited numbers of mobile telephones. Tweets can also be read online at Twitter.com.

"Nonviolent resistance movements are typically driven by students, young people who are increasingly born digital natives," Ushadidi board member Patrick Meier wrote in a presentation posted online at iRevolution.

"Resistance movements are likely to make even more use of new communication technology and digital media in the future. At the same time, however, the likelihood and consequences of getting caught are high."

Meier explained ways that Internet-age technology-prone revolutionaries can reduce risks of exposure in a presentation titled "How To Communicate Securely in Repressive Environments."

"Organizational hierarchies are being broken down as youth adopt new technologies," Meier said.

"Political activists need to realize that their regimes are becoming smarter and more effective, not dumber and hardly clueless."