A critical network upgrade must be performed to ensure continued operation of Twitter. In coordination with Twitter, our network host had planned this upgrade for tonight. However, our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran. Tonight's planned maintenance has been rescheduled to tomorrow between 2-3p PST (1:30a in Iran).As much as I fear what happens after the honeymoon with SMS and social media under repressive governments, currently they provide an amazing tool for immediate news even during crisis, citizen voice and discussion. Update: The State Department is now involved; http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2009/06/16/state-department-to-twitter-keep-iranian-tweets-coming/ :
By necessity, the US is staying hands off of the election drama playing out in Iran, and officials say they are not providing messages to Iranians or “quarterbacking” the disputed election process. But they do want to make sure the technology is able to play its sorely-needed role in the crisis, which is why the State Department is advising social networking sites to make sure their networks stay up and running for Iranians to use them and helping them stay ahead of anyone who would try to shut them down.
You might have heard about the posthumously released video by a Guatemalan lawyer accusing his president of assassination in the event of his death, for not participating in a money-laundering scheme. If not, read about the video on boingboing.
It's ignited a full-blown protest against corruption in a country known for not being kind to activism. There are live protests ongoing and rumored additional strikes and protests against the government and its narco-trafficking connections, and a very active online media component (local TV stations are avoiding the events like the plague, but online outlet Libertopolis is broadcasting the protests, and there is a twitter hashtag (#escandaloGT). Read more on different citizen media and follow updates at boingboing's coverage of the scandal, and CNN's slanted coverage: "Guatemala rejects allegations of role in lawyer's death," which follows Guatemala's own media's tactic of not speaking about the mass protests:
My bitter, cynical hope had been to demonstrate that the conversation switched from a small Romanian-language conversation about the actual protest events to a self-congratulation festival in the English-language twittersphere. Good thing we’ve got data to prove me wrong. [...] I’d expected to see “twitter” emerge as one of the most popular terms by Wednesday or Thursday, and to see the conversation shift into English. [...] But by Thursday, Twitter’s out of the top 20 entirely and “comunistii” ranks behind Moldova and Chisinau. So yes, the conversation on Wednesday - the busiest day with over 1,000 authors - included lots of non-Moldovans. But the conversation quickly shifted back to the political standoff.That being said, there are under 200 reported actual twitter users inside Moldova; so while the conversation avoided turning into the twitter version of back-patting, it also is not the twitter flash-mob we're looking for. Worse, governments are getting more sophisticated in limiting the utility of mobile phones for this kind of disruption, as Evgeny Morozov at ForeignPolicy reminds us:
I've just spoken to a Moldovan friend who is himself a big technology fan; according to him, there is little to none cellphone coverage in the square itself (turning off cellphone coverage in protest areas is a trick that was also used by the Belarusian authorities to diffuse 2006 protests in Minsk's central square), so protesters have to leave it to post updates to Twitter via GPRS technology on their mobiles.It seems likely that next time around, the government will also make sure GPRS is hobbled as well, and there were reports that the government was strong-arming local ISPs into restricting outside connections. So while Twitter was involved, it seems too early to claim it's victory, as both Evgeny Morozov and Ethan Zuckerman seem to agree on. There was no sign-in form at the protest with a "Where did you hear about this? ( ) Twitter ( ) Facebook ( ) SMS (non-twitter) ( ) Friend ... " so we can't really be sure of the impact of any one social utility over another (though we could do some interesting things with Facebook photo tagging perhaps?), and this will continue to haunt any attempts to link online social media movements with offline action. That's not the only story here, though. While I'm excited about turning online interaction into offline action, I strongly believe that the lower-hanging fruit in social media sites is real-time, mass reporting of events. You may get a thousand different viewpoints, but you're guaranteed to not just get one filtered and sanitized report. As Evgeny Morozov notes;
There are also a few moving English-language Twitter posts like this - "in #pman a grenade thrown by the police has torn apart one of the protester's leg"- that would surely be perused by foreign journalists.We saw the role of SMS and Twitter in getting the news out about the Mumbai bombings in November 2008. As microblogging sites get increasingly sophisticated (or their users settle on hashtags and location update formats) I think we can expect to see fast local news coming not from traditional media but from our peers. Without editorial oversight or research/verification, we'll have to rely on mass numbers of twitterers reporting on each event to present an evenhanded view, but overall I see this move towards instant sharing of information as an amazing development that will only getbetter and more interesting, both in the case of free speech and media, and for mobile possibilities for development.