Twitter made its case this week that it's up to the task of being a player in geopolitical journalism.
The Iranian government, which is attempting to control the flow of information among protesters of the supposed results of that nation's presidential election, is having difficulty stopping citizens from using technology to report what's happening, express outrage, and get people out to opposition rallies.
Because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran, information gathered on the Web is crucial to its understanding of the post-election unrest that has led to mass protests and fatal clashes with police. Twitter, where users have been filtering relevant information with the hashtag #iranelection, has been a crucial hot spot for raw news.
Twitter even rescheduled some planned downtime in order to stay accessible for Iranian users in the midst of political upheaval at the request of the U.S. Department of State. The diplomacy agency is working with multiple social-networking and communication services to ensure that conversation and information channels stay active.
One technique being employed to get around the government's online blockades is the electronic equivalent of a detour, which involves using something known as a proxy server.
Normally, a Web browser makes a connection directly to a Web site's Internet address. But that address can be easily discovered and added to the government's blacklist. The trick is to redirect Web browsing through a proxy, which could be a permanent commercial service, or someone volunteering his or her computer temporarily.
Worried that the Iranian government might seek out and punish any Twitter users who were employing the microblogging site for potentially subversive purposes, Twitterers are encouraging others to change their stated country of origin. Certainly, the Iranian government knows how to use Twitter and how to find people in that country using the microblogging service as a way to spread news about the protests.
The easiest way the Iranian government could discover which tweets were from Iranians is to look at whose accounts are registered to people who identify themselves as being from that country. A new thread that spread quickly across Twitter urged people around the world to change those settings in order to make themselves appear to be in Tehran.
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