While Twitter has suffered endless wisecracks about its users tweeting more about their favourite sandwiches and coveted parking spots than anything truly important, the past several days have once again showed the microblogging site's real promise.
During a harsh government crackdown following the disputed Iranian elections, the Twitter social network has become something of a lifeline for the people of Iran.
The Iranian government may have blocked or shut down various communication mediums - like phone lines, the Facebook social network, YouTube videos and even text messaging - but people are still sending photos and information from Iran in short 140-character bursts.
"I think this is Twitter's finest hour. I don't think there's much doubt about that," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research. "If anyone in Iran has access to the Web, they can tell their story. This has made our world smaller and more personal in a time of great chaos and when a government is trying to stop communication."
Some of the Tweets sent include:
- "CONFIRMED!!! Army moving into Tehran against protesters!"
- "tehran is alive with sound of freedom"
- "all cell networks down in Tehran"
It's not the first time Twitter has been used to get vital information from chaotic sites to authorities and the public. Earlier this year, several passengers on a US Airways jet that made an emergency water landing on New York's Hudson River used Twitter to keep the world updated on the status of the passengers and crew. And late last year, Tweets were sent from the site of a terrorist attack in Mumbai, India.
Individuals have taken control of news
Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat, and Caroline Dangson, an analyst with IDC, both said the use of Twitter to broadcast reports from the scene of such incidents shows how individuals have taken control of news dissemination.
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