NEW YORK (AFP) – The US government took the unusual step of asking Twitter to delay a planned maintenance outage because of its use as a communications tool by Iranians following their disputed election, according to a senior official.
The request highlighted the Obama administration's Web-savvy 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 tuneup, which would have taken place during daylight hours in Iran, and rescheduled it for Tuesday but said the decision was made with its network provider, not the State Department. The micro-blogging site went down around 5:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Tuesday and was back online about an hour later.
A State Department official in Washington said Twitter had been asked to delay Monday's shutdown because it 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." Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, in a blog post, noted the State Department request but said the decision to delay the outage was made with Twitter's network provider, NTT America.
"When we worked with our network provider yesterday to reschedule this planned maintenance, we did so because events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network," Stone said.
"We decided together to move the date. It made sense for Twitter and for NTT America to keep services active during this highly visible global event," he said. Stone said "it's humbling to think that our two-year old company could be playing such a globally meaningful role that State officials find their way toward highlighting our significance.
"However, it's important to note that the State Department does not have access to our decision making process," he said. "Nevertheless, we can both agree that the open exchange of information is a positive force in the world." Stone also said the maintenance was a success and Twitter's network capacity had been "significantly increased."
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said meanwhile that the United States does not intend to meddle in Iranian politics. "We don't want to be seen as interfering," he said. Obama himself issued the same message Tuesday, saying: "It is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations to be seen as ... meddling in Iranian elections."
Kelly went on to say that 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," he said.
Another Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, speaking at a two-day conference in New York on Tuesday about the micro-blogging service, 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, organizer of the 140 Character Conference.
Tags: US State Department, Obama, Biz Stone, Twitter, NTT America, Jack Dorsey, 140 Character Conference, Jeff Pulver, Iran, Iranians, Facebook, Election, Election Protests, Global Development News,