Twitter, Social Networks Deliver News of Protests in Iran

The Iranian government this week placed tough restrictions on foreign journalists covering the protests over last week's presidential election in Iran.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have become key sources of information (and misinformation) in the aftermath of the election. In a sort of testament to how important Twitter has become in getting video and photos of protests in front of the world, the U.S. government asked Twitter to delay a planned maintenance shutdown. Twitter honored the request and waited until later in the day Tuesday to temporarily shut down the site.

How do you find out what people are saying about the election, protests, etc. on social networking sites? has some advice, as does Poynter's E-Media Tidbits.

On Twitter, you can use hashtags to filter what you are looking for, including #Iranelection, #Ahmadinejad, #Mousavi and #Tehran. The Twitter account belonging to Tehran Bureau, an online magazine about Iran and the Iranian diaspora, is another resource.

You can make sites search and monitor Twitter for you. Monitter, Tweetdeck and Twitscoop let you search tweets for specific key words. The Web site has collected a list of related Twitter feeds and a page of videos related to the protest violence.

On YouTube, you can search for videos with specific tags, such as "Irandoost2009" and "Iran Protests." This YouTube page has links to several different protest videos in the right rail.

On Flickr, the photo sharing site, try searching for terms such as "Iran Elections" and "Iran Riots 2009."

PC World explained how bloggers in Iran have stayed ahead of government sensors:

"Iranians are using proxy servers to get around regional restrictions. A proxy server can mask your real location, and allow you to fool regional censorship filters letting you access blocked sites.

"Despite the effectiveness of this workaround, the ability to access proxy servers is starting to become more of a challenge for Iranian activists. The Wall Street Journal reports that activists are trying to stay one-step ahead of government censors who are actively blocking new proxies.

"Blogger Phillip Weiss says Iranians are starting to run out of available proxy servers and issued a plea for those who are "technically capable" to set up proxies for Iranians to use. In response, San Francisco-based blogger Austin Heap has posted a do-it-yourself guide on how to create a proxy.

"Part of the reason Iranians are running out of proxies stems from activists outside Iran eager to lend a hand who post available proxies via Twitter. Twitter user manukaj warned that broadcasting this information on Twitter only helps Iranian officials block new proxies that much faster."

Even the U.S. government said it relies on Twitter and other social networks to deliver information. CNN reported:

"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, United Arab Emirates; Berlin, Germany; and London, England, all home to large Iranian expatriate communities.

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

"'It is a very good example of where technology is helping,' the official said.

Nieman Reports explored how tough it is to report out of Iran, even in less trying times.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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