Locals using Twitter against Iran censorship

BY HOLLY HINES | JUNE 23, 2009 7:21 AM

Twitter users around the world — Iowa City included — are changing their location and time-zone settings to match those of Tehran residents in order to thwart government censors.

These efforts reportedly impede the Iranian leadership’s ability to single out Tweeters relaying political information from Iran — the more people listing Tehran as their location, the more difficult it is for Iranian officials to target activists within the country.

“If others change it, it makes it harder. It confuses the government,” said Mahtab Ghazizadeh, a UI graduate research assistant.

Bill Delehant, a UI senior who is taking part in the efforts, said he changed his time zone in order to show his solidarity with the Iranian people.

“It’s easy to do,” he said. “Everyone should do it.”

UI law student Judith Faucette also changed her time zone in order to show support.

“I feel pretty strongly about what the Iranian people want to happen,” she said.

On Twitter, messages have appeared encouraging people to take part in this effort, such as, “Set your location to Tehran & time zone to GMT+330. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location/time-zone searches.”

The social-networking page has been used since the election results were announced June 13 to disseminate information by both government officials and political dissidents.

The government annointed incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the winner by a landslide, prompting a week of protests and rallies in support of popular opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousasvi, who was widely viewed throughout Iran as a reformer. Immediately after results were announced, allegations of vote tampering began circulating.

Yashar Vasef, a UI alumnus who organized a local downtown protest against the controversial election results, said news seekers worldwide should be cautious about which information they trust.

The Iranian government has reportedly posted false information via the social-networking sites.

And Tweeters responded by warning each other.

One message read: “Know your sources! As govnt. loses control, they use Twitter to spread dis-info designed to incite fear. Been done all wk!”

People in Iran have been have been using Twitter to coordinate political events and demonstrations as well, Ghazizadeh said.

However, Majid Emadi, a UI graduate student, said Facebook is in fact the most common networking site used in Iran. Emadi — whose brother was arrested with a group of students in the library of his Iranian university and then later released — said he appreciates the support of those who are involved in publicizing pertinent information.

The fast pace of social-networking sites has been a helpful aspect of information exchange, Mohammed said, and when the government-censored media post something questionable, a flood of contradicting information comes in via these sites.

“They can’t lie to us anymore,” he said.

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