A State Department official asked Twitter to postpone scheduled downtime to keep a channel open for Iranians protesting the country's contested election, according to the NY Times.The New York times reported yesterday that a State Department official e-mailed Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey with a request to delay the social networking site's maintenance outage to allow Iranians to continue to share information among themselves and with the rest of the world.
Protesters have been taking to the streets of Tehran since Saturday, when current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor. Iran has ordered foreign reporters to stop covering the protests and cut mobile phone and text messaging services within the country. In response, Iranians have turned to the Internet and social networking sites.
Twitter cofounder Biz Stone blogged yesterday that the company did delay the maintenance, but also noted "the State Department does not have access to our decision-making process."
According to the Times story, Jared Cohen, the State Department official who made the request, has a pre-existing relationship with Twitter's Dorsey. In May of this year, he brought Dorsey and other tech leaders to Baghdad to meet with officials to discuss rebuilding that country's communications infrastructure.
Twitter isn't the only social networking site playing a role in the Iranian election. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mossavi's campaign used Facebook to promote campaign events and mobilize supporters.
This also isn't the first time the Internet has been leveraged to protest election results. A fraudulent presidential election in Ukraine in 2004 sparked the Orange Revolution. Supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko used the Internet to organize protests and share news worldwide. The protests eventually led to a revote, with Yushenko declared the winner.