James Harkin views the world of Twitter diplomacy. On Iran he isn't impressed:

When you look at the figures you realise that only a very small number of Iranians were using [Twitter]. In 2009, according to a firm called Sysomos which analyses social media, there were 19,235 Twitter accounts in Iran – 0.03 per cent of the population. Researchers at al-Jazeera found only 60 Twitter accounts active in Tehran at the time of the demonstrations, which fell to six after the crackdown.There’s certainly a growing internet culture in Iran – in Blogistan, the media academics Annabelle Sreberny and Gholam Khiabany estimate that there are about 70,000 active blogs in the country, including a vibrant gay blogosphere – but it’s far from being the preserve of liberal reformists....

It was more useful for the global media. ‘Twitter functioned mainly as a huge echo chamber of solidarity messages from global voices, that simply slowed the general speed of traffic,’ the authors of Blogistan conclude. On 16 June the authorities forbade journalists from covering the demonstrations without permission. Kicking their heels in their hotel rooms, most foreign correspondents began surfing through the blizzard of tweets and video clips to try and work out what was going on.

But it was all difficult to verify, and a good part was tweeted from outside the country: to add to the chaos, many overseas sympathisers had changed their location to make it look as if they were in Iran. The point – perhaps – was to confuse the Iranian authorities by opening the information gates, but the flood of unverifiable tweets may have confused the protesters too. Some of what was sent around on Twitter – the news, for example, that Mousavi had been arrested – simply wasn’t true, so the movement’s high-profile foreign supporters were often retweeting rumour and disinformation from the comfort of their desktops.

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