Twitter Technology and the Revolution in Iran

The Revolution Will Be Microblogged: Iran’s Election and the Power of TwitterBy Kevin Fayle on June 25, 2009 12:30 PM | No TrackBacks events that have unfolded in Iran following the contestedpresidential election have transfixed the world. Much of theinformation that has come out of (and into) the country has traveledover social media services as a result of censorship and blocking ofcommunications systems by the government.The crisis in Iran has allowed Twitter, the microblogging service, tomature into a legitimate and important communication tool. Twitterhas played such a prominent role in allowing mobilization anddocumentation of the Iranian opposition that the US State Departmentat one point even asked the company to put off a scheduled maintenanceso that Iranians could continue using the service.Iconic images and videos, such as the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan(warning: the video is graphic and disturbing), have flooded out ofIran and the protesters have used the service to organize rallies andspread information. Twitter has also been instrumental in allowingoutsiders to read real-time reports about the events in Iran, alldespite the fact that the government has actively attempted to blockcommunication of the turmoil to the outside world.Twitter has become the default method of communication about theIranian situation because of one primary characteristic: openness.Despite the fact that the government has blocked the Twitter siteitself, there are many websites that utilize the Twitter ApplicationProgramming Interface (API) and allow users to read others’ tweets andpost their own. The Iranian authorities don’t always know about thesesites in order to block them, which allows Iranian citizens tocontinue to tweet about the events as they occur.Those interested in following the unfolding events or tweeting aboutsomething related to the Iranian election can also utilize anotherfeature of Twitter, called hashtags, in order to read reports on theelection and direct their comments to the right conversation. Ahashtag is basically a keyword with a hash symbol in front of it.People place hashtags in their tweets in order to make it easier forothers to locate posts on a particular topic, and users of the Twittersearch function can search for those hashtags in order to easily findthe conversation threads they’re after.For example, the two most popular hashtags used to identify a tweetabout the Iran election are #iranelection and #gr88. A message usingone of those hashtags might look something like this: “more protestsin the streets of Tehran #iranelection”.Twitter has definitely had an overall positive influence in the midstof the Iranian tragedy, but there is also a possibility that the sitecould become a tool for the security forces to track down and suppressthose posting to the service. Since data on the internet can liveforever, and since people communicating over the internet leave tracesthat they might not be aware of, those Iranians using Twitter shouldbe cautious, lest they inadvertently identify themselves or thosearound them as members of the opposition protest movement.The success of Twitter in keeping communication flowing in and out ofIran despite the governments attempts at censorship reveals thattechnology can be a powerful tool against oppressive regimes. Themetadata about tweets and the publicity of the messages can alsocreate danger for those actively using the service to spread news andorganize political protests, however. Like most things in life,Twitter is a double edge sword that, when used properly, can be agreat benefit. When used carelessly, however, it can lead to woe andmisfortune.Regimes like those in China and Iran try very hard to control whattheir citizens see and do online. Some argue that this violates theright to freedom of expression guaranteed by several internationaltreaties, as well as the laws governing international trade. Toolslike Twitter that are difficult for the regimes to control can help tokeep citizens of the countries connected to the outside world, andgive them a voice when the government tries to silence them. This inturn can help ensure that all individuals can enjoy the rightsguaranteed to them under international law.See Also:Tyranny’s new nightmare: Twitter (LA Times)Cyberwar guide for Iran elections (Boing Boing)HOW TO: Track Iran Election with Twitter and Social Media (Mashable)Unrest in Iran raises profile for Twitter (

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