Social networking ran into social upheaval last week when the State Department called on Twitter to delay previously scheduled maintenance of its popular online service because it was being extensively used by demonstrators in Iran.
Deferring the work meant that Iranians, gathering by the thousands in Tehran to protest the recent elections, could continue to use the service even as their government arrested and restricted independent journalists.
The Iranian protests have also pitted hackers against activists, sparring over the best use of the nation's limited Internet capacity. Hackers launched coordinated cyberattacks against several government news websites this week, overloading the sites in so-called distributed denial of service attacks.
Other activists called for a halt to the attacks because they were devouring bandwidth that other opposition supporters needed for sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, both to plan actions and to distribute photos and videos to the world. One Iranian activist wrote on Twitter: "Quit with the DDOS attacks—they're just slowing down Iranian traffic and making it more difficult for the protesters to tweet."
But the anonymity of social networking necessitates caution. CNN, which aired numerous user-submitted reports from Tehran, noted that it could not vouch for the authenticity of all the reports from bloggers, tweeters, and YouTubists. Demonstrators associated with the campaign of candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, meanwhile, warned that protesters should be wary of Iranian government officials posing as opposition members. "Ignore all post except from reliable sources," cautioned one activist.
- See photos of the demonstrations in Iran.