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U.S. State Department Asked Twitter To Reschedule Down Time

Rally in Tehran, June 16, 2009

Rally in Tehran, June 16, 2009

Yesterday Twitter announced it would have 90 minutes of down time at 9:45 Pacific time while they did some site maintenance. Thousands of Twitterers begged for the site to be left up, since Twitter has become an important source of communication for Iranians who are trying to get news out to the world and to reach out to other people. At first Twitter said they couldn’t change the down time, but then in the evening they announced it would be rescheduled until this afternoon. Now it turns out that it was the State Department that prevailed upon Twitter to keep the lines of communication open during daytime hours in Iran.

From CNN Political Ticker:

U.S. 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 Iranian authorities banning western journalists from covering political rallies.

“There are lots of people here watching” at bureaus and offices across the State Department, one senior official said. “There are some interesting messages going up.”

Because the United States 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 expatriate communities.

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

I’m not really sure how to feel about this. I certainly hope the State Department has other sources of information besides the ones available to the rest of us. Nevertheless, this news provides more reinforcement for the notion that has gone viral lately: that Twitter and Facebook, like blogs, have a valuable role to play in citizen journalism. Continue reading