WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US government asked Twitter to delay maintenance plans in order to allow Iranians to communicate while their government banned other media following elections, a US official said Tuesday.
The official said the State Department had asked the social networking firm to delay shutting down its service to "highlight to them that this was an important means of communications... in Iran."
The State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that the Twitter service was all the more important because the Iranian government had shut down other websites, cell phones, and newspapers.
"One of the areas where people are able to get out the word is through Twitter," the official said. "They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance and we asked them not to."
The US official said he did not know who at the State Department called Twitter but it was not Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Twitter said it had delayed plans to temporarily shut down the service late Monday for "critical" maintenance, adding its role in sharing news from Iran is too important to interrupt.
"Our network host had planned this upgrade for tonight," Twitter founder Biz Stone said Monday in a message to users. "However, our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran."
Taking Twitter offline for an hour for maintenance was postponed until Tuesday afternoon, according to Stone.
Protestors in Iran on Monday used Twitter for battle cries and to spread word about clashes with police and hardline supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Messages posted on the micro-blogging service, some with links to pictures, streamed from Iran despite reported efforts by authorities there to block news of protests over Ahmadinejad's claim of having been fairly re-elected.
Pictures of wounded or dead people that senders claim were Iranian protestors ricocheted about Twitter and wound up posted at online photo-sharing websites such as Flickr as well as on YouTube.
A protestor was reportedly shot dead during clashes in Tehran as massive crowds of people defied a ban to stage a rally against the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad.
The trouble flared after Ahmadinejad's defeated rival Mir Hossein Mousavi appeared in public for the first time since an election that has sharply divided the nation and triggered protests and rioting.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that officials at the State Department had been in contact with Twitter throughout the weekend, but did not make clear that it was about the aftermath of the Iranian elections.
When asked if such talks with Twitter could be seen as interference in Iran's affairs, he said US President Barack Obama and other officials were very clear they want to stay out of Iranian politics.
"We don't want to be seen as interfering," he said.
He added that the new media provide a good source of information for the US government, which has had no diplomatic relations with Iran for three decades.
"We're of course monitoring the situation through a number of different media, including social media networks like Facebook and Twitter," Kelly said.
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