eWhite House Watch - Full Article

Twitter Crackdown by Iranian Government (With Tweets From an eLL Embedded Contact)

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As rioters continue to protest the recent election in Iran, the Iranian government’s internet blockade has becoming increasingly stringent, threatening to rival that of China’s. Currently, CNET.com reports that Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, the BBC, and YouTube websites have been blocked, controversial keywords are prohibited, and numerous blogs have been restricted.

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As Iranians searched for ways to coordinate actions amongst themselves and communicate with the outside world, they found an answer in an unlikely place, the popular but unassuming social networking site, Twitter. The New York Times along with others have openly announced that some of the best commentary on the ongoing events has been received through Twitter messages.

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How are Iranians bypassing the country’s virtual lock-down to access Twitter? Many configure their web browsers to contact a proxy, which is a server that can reroute a connection through another country in an attempt to bypass government filters. The people of Tehran are receiving an outpour of support and assistance from people around the world, many of whom are sympathetic strangers who wish to support the protesters.

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In fact, more than 750 users (at any given moment) are being aided by Austin Heap, an information technology consultant in San Francisco. When asked why he was offering his services as a proxy, he responded “the marriage of civil disobedience with the social networking savvy is the death of despotism in these places.  If you combine these two, you have a very potent force.”  Mr. Heap posted simple directions on his blog on how to setup proxies last Sunday, and within twenty-four hours he discovered that over a thousand people from around the world had set up proxies of their own, based on his instructions.

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Recently, e-Lessons Learned (eLL) was fortunate enough to exchange correspondence with an embedded contact in Tehran who had been using Twitter to offer eyewitness reports on the volatile situation.  Yet, within a few hours of our access to his Twitter account, all of his posts since June 10 (two days prior to the election) were removed with no warning and the account was deleted. However, eLL managed to recover these two posted tweets.

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RT Besiji loosening on Tehran Uni, students- leave now, use east routes. #iranelection

about 23 hours ago from web

RT: Thousands of people peacefully protesting. Let’s hope it stays peaceful. #iranelection #gr88 about 24 hours ago from web

 

Since then, we received word that our contact travelled to Beirut for safety concerns and plans on remaining there until the situation stabilizes. We will be sure to post any further updates from our contact.

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Why was our contact’s account (along with many others) closed? The answer: A surprisingly swift response by the Iranian government to crack down on proxies in an effort to make it increasingly difficult for people like Mr. Heap to offer assistance. ComputerWorld reports that initially, those offering proxies posted them publicly, which made them easy to find by protestors, the Iranian government, and spammers alike. Now, those offering proxies have made them password-protected, which grants the creator control over who can access the proxies. However, there are reports that the Iranian government has begun to use Twitter to spread false information and track down those who have been communicating anti-government posts. For these and other reasons many Iranians have either voluntarily or involuntarily shut-down their Twitter accounts.

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Be sure to check back for updates on this developing story.

Comments (1):

  1. Using any individual’s personal account puts Iranians at risk in my mind. Rather than posting information to accounts with their names on them, why couldn’t they post information to a website set up specifically for receiving same? The format could be similar to any user forum that allows for anonymous registration. Assuming they didn’t identify themselves, I would think that the Iranian government would have to legally subpoena the websites and/or isp’s records through the courts in the country where the website was maintained. What am I missing? Obviously, someone who doesn’t know what their doing could get a lot of innocent people killed by trying to provide this service without properly protecting the source so I’m definitely not suggesting that any schmo run out and set something up. But as it is now, communicating through their own Twitter accounts will likely have negative consequences in the long run.

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