17 June, 2009

US asks Twitter to stay online because of Iran vote

Posted: 17 June 2009 0727 hrs

An Iranian woman holds up a picture of the latest crackdown by Iranian police on reformist protesters in Tehran.

NEW YORK: The Obama administration took the unusual step of asking Twitter to delay a planned maintenance outage because of the social blogging site's use as a communications tool by Iranians following their disputed election, a senior official said on Tuesday.

The request highlighted the administration's Web-savvy ways and the power of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook in organizing protests over the election results in the face of a ban by Iranian authorities on other media.

But it also seemed to run counter to President Barack Obama's public efforts not to appear to be meddling in Iran's internal affairs.

Twitter delayed Monday's scheduled tune-up, which would have taken place during daylight hours in Iran, and rescheduled it for Tuesday. The site went down around 5:00 pm (2100 GMT) for what was expected to be about an hour.

A State Department official in Washington said Twitter had been asked to delay Monday's shutdown because the micro-blogging service was being used as "an important means of communications" in Iran.

The official told reporters on condition of anonymity that Twitter 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."

The US official said he did not know who at the State Department called Twitter, but it was not Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said in a blog post that Twitter had delayed plans to temporarily shut down the service for "critical" maintenance, but did not mention any State Department intervention.

Another Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, speaking at a two-day conference in New York on Tuesday about the micro-blogging service, did not mention the State Department request but said Twitter was "delaying much overdue scheduled downtime so we would not interrupt what's currently unfolding in Iran".

Dorsey described the usage of Twitter by Iranians as "amazing".

"Just think about what's occurring over there and the accessibility that we all have to see this unfold in real time," he said. "It's amazing. It's huge."

"Suddenly everything that's happening over there feels extremely close," he said. "It feels approachable. And that's really important and that is really the greatest success of what Twitter is."

"If ever there was a time that Twitter mattered it was this past weekend in Iran," added Jeff Pulver, organiser of the 140 Character Conference.

Protesters in Iran on Monday used Twitter for battle cries and to spread 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 protesters ricocheted about Twitter and wound up posted at online photo-sharing websites such as Flickr as well as on YouTube.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that officials at the State Department had been in contact with Twitter throughout the weekend, but did not make clear that it was about the aftermath of the Iranian elections.

When asked if such talks with Twitter could be seen as interference in Iran's affairs, he said Obama and other officials were very clear they want to stay out of Iranian politics.

"We don't want to be seen as interfering," he said.

Obama himself issued the same message on Tuesday, saying, "It is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling – the US president, meddling in Iranian elections."

Kelly went on to say that the new media provided a good source of information for the US government, which has had no diplomatic relations with Iran for three decades.

"We're of course monitoring the situation through a number of different media, including social media networks like Facebook and Twitter," Kelly said.

- AFP/so

From ChannelNewsAsia.com; see the source article here.

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