17 June 2009

The State Department & Twitter

This is kind of petty, but the State Department's claim of contacting Twitter about postponing its downtime irritates me. Here's why:

1) Monday, June 15, Twitter announces
We will have 90 minutes of maintenance starting tonight at 9:45p Pacific [8:15 AM Tehran]. Critical network upgrades will be performed during this time.
2) Immediately after the announcement appeared, people began to flood Twitter with requests to postpone the downtime because of the sudden rise in traffic to and from members of the Iranian opposition [requests made by email and on Twitter. See #nomaintenance].

3) Monday, 4:24 pm, Twitter announces:
"Downtime has been rescheduled for 2p Pacfiic [sic] tomorrow, June 16th" [5 pm EST, 1:30 AM Tehran time].
4) Tuesday, June 16th: The State Department claims that it had contacted Twitter about the Monday outage. According to Reuters, the contact happened "over the weekend." That is, before the downtime was announced and before Twitter exploded as a critical tool for communications between the Iranian opposition and the outside world. According to the New York Times, the contact happened on Monday afternoon, when a 27 year old State Department official emailed a Twitter co-counder to request a delay (in other words, he joined the Twittering throngs). Over the weekend or Monday afternoon--which is it?

5) Tuesday, 2:00 pm PDT, Twitter's delayed upgrade occurred as planned.

6) Tuesday, 3:21 pm PDT: Twitter denies that they shifted the upgrade because of the State Department. In fact, the Twitter blog features a delightfully ambiguous statement that alludes to the State Department, but that neither confirms nor denies the State Department's claims of contact:
It's humbling to think that our two-year old company could be playing such a globally meaningful role that state officials find their way toward highlighting our significance. However, it's important to note that the State Department does not have access to our decision making process. Nevertheless, we can both agree that the open exchange of information is a positive force in the world.
Now, it may very well be that the State Department official got in touch with Twitter on Monday, but it may also be that the State Department jumped onto the "mail Twitter about the Monday outage" after the fact: after Twitter had rescheduled and after the media began to report (or hype) Twitter's significance. Either way, the media reports the contact as though Twitter delayed the outage because of the State Department, and that's simply incorrect.

Like I said--it's petty. But it seems that the State Department is taking credit for citizens' initiatives. It also seems like a silly stunt (why would the State Department announce the contact? Especially when the President had repeated his points about not meddling. It might not be a huge deal to the general public, but the mullahs might see it differently).

Added: At Wired, Nicholas Thomson splashes some cold water on the Iran/Twitter hype.

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