Tweeting from Iran

Twitter beats news organizations in Iran coverage, the service has even delayed planned site maintenance because of all the buzz

By Scott Budman
|  Wednesday, Jun 17, 2009  |  Updated 1:09 AM PDT
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Dramatic Photos: The Iranian Election

A demonstrator wears a mask in the party's color of green, due to fears of being identified, as hundreds of thousands of supporters of leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi turn out to protest the result of the election at a mass rally in Azadi (Freedom) Square in Tehran, Iran.

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The shocking photos from Iran in the wake of recent elections are a sobering reminder of what happens when politics and religion clash.  And while that itself is not new from the Middle East, what is new is the way we are getting the news.

Authorities in Tehran have, we are told, mostly shut out the large news organizations we've come to trust during times like these.  So, instead of waiting for the Associated Press, CNN, Fox, and the others to try and track down the news, we're getting it on the Web. Facebook, Twitter, and the like are letting people inside and outside of Iran blog and tell the world what's going on.

It may be digital dribs and drabs, but it's more than the Associated Press is getting. Editors at the newswire have been sending out notes saying they haven't been allowed to report the story from the street.

Iranian journalist Omid Memarian of San Francisco is following the news from back home on the Web. "People who have been silent forever are coming forward," he says. "They're saying,'We want out voices to be heard.'"

Judging by a search on the term "iranelections" on Twitter, they are being heard -- or at least read. Twitter has been extremely busy since the election results were announced, and even delayed at the urging of the U.S. State Department some planned maintenance to the site because of all the traffic about Iran. Twitter's 140-character messages aren't as comprehensive as a CNN report, and the still photographs posted on TwitPic and Facebook aren't magazine-level quality -- but at least they're something.

"They've cut off telephone, e-mail, texting, and for foreign press issued a letter saying nobody can report without permission," the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies in London said in a statement. "Twitter is the one thing being used."

Even Memarian admits the quick Web updates aren't enough to satisfy his hunger for information. "It's hard to predict what will happen next," he says. "for the people in the streets, it has never happened before."

And for those of us who have gotten used to news the old-fashioned way, the Web uprising has never happened before, either. It's a welcome change.

Scott Budman is looking for others to comment on this.  He can be reached on Twitter: @scottbudman

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