Not that the New York Times is the type of paper to goof around, but I did a double take when I saw the headlines proclaiming a social networking site a major force in international diplomacy. A glance at my calendar reassured me that today is June 17 and not the first of April. So yeah, this is real. And my world is a little bit rocked at the moment.
Protests are continuing in Iran over the results of the recent election. Coincidentally, Twitter was scheduled to go down for routine maintenance. You’d think those two sentences are totally unrelated, right? Wrong. A 27-year-old State Department official emailed a Twitter co-founder to politely request that they postpone their downtime so Iranians could keep tweeting. As another State official paraphrased the message, “It appears Twitter is playing an important role at a crucial time in Iran. Could you keep it going?”
The Iranian government has blocked text messaging, and although they’ve tried to cut access to Twitter and YouTube, Iranians have gotten pretty good at circumventing the blocks (file that under unintended consequences of technological repression). Reporters have to risk their lives to leave their offices, and ordinary citizens are posting amazing footage of the protests to YouTube.
There’s something really disconcerting about shocking photos of people being beaten bloody being sent out to the world through a website that is famous for basically redefining trivial. I mean, the mascot is a cute little blue bird! I can wrap my head just fine around Iranians finding Twitter a handy way to communicate freely, but the American government actually intervening in its maintenance schedule? Boggle.
Information for this post, including the quote and photo, came from the New York Times.