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Twitter Is a Player In Iran's Drama

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Some information tweeted about planned gatherings, or about the shooting of a protester, has been confirmed by mainstream media. Other reports have been debunked or have proven impossible to verify.

Though Twitter wasn't the only Web service used by supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi as Iran's election strife played out, Iranian government officials were more successful in shutting out access to Web sites such as Facebook than they were with Twitter, where entries are limited to 140 characters or less.

Tech industry analyst Rob Enderle said Twitter might be more resistant to the Iranian government's attempts to block access because users can post updates via a cellphone's text-messaging service, or SMS.

"Twitter is a unique property because it works easily with SMS," Enderle said. "That gives it a resiliency that isn't shared by other online-only sites," such as Facebook, he said. To block Twitter use, he said, Iran would either have to shut down text messaging on a one-to-one basis, a tedious and time-intensive process, or shut down text messaging throughout the country.

In a blog entry posted Monday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone cited users in Iran as a reason for delaying "a critical network upgrade" but did not mention any contact from State Department officials. The maintenance, as originally scheduled, would have disrupted Twitter service for users in Tehran yesterday morning.

The State Department's request contrasts with recent comments from President Obama saying that the United States would not get involved in the matter. Obama said earlier this week that he and other world leaders have "deep concerns" about the Iranian election, but that he did not want the United States to be seen as meddling.

Protesters have often used new technologies to evade government attempts to stifle dissent, said Tim Bajarin, with the Silicon Valley research firm Creative Strategies. In the last days of the Soviet Union, dissenters used underground fax services to spread information, he said.

This is not the first time Twitter users have employed the service toward serious ends. Last year, an American journalism student was arrested in Egypt for taking photographs at a protest. After typing a single word -- "arrested" -- into his cellphone, which relayed it to his Twitter account, the student's friends and family contacted the State Department in the hopes of pressuring the Egyptian government for his release.

Staff writers Tara Bahrampour, Liz Heron, Glenn Kessler and Scott Wilson contributed to this report.


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