U.S. State Department launches Farsi Twitter feed

February 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The upheaval in the Middle East appears to be spreading into Iran and the U.S. government is reaching out to Iranian citizens with the help of San Francisco-based Twitter.

The State Department launched a Farsi-language Twitter feed Sunday in hopes of connecting with internet users in Iran. So far, there've only been a few tweets but the message is clear.

All is calm on the streets of Iran now, but a protest in support of the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt is planned Monday, despite warnings from the Iranian government. The U.S. State Department is hoping its Twitter messages in Farsi will inspire Iranians to follow through with their plans. The department tells Iranians "we want to join in your conversation." A following tweet was more to the point -- which called on Iran "to allow people to enjoy same universal rights to peacefully assemble, demonstrate as in Cairo."

"If it comes from the State Department's Twitter account you can assume it was approved by the White House. Hilary Clinton and the tech people and this is probably my favorite part about the Obama Administration, they're very, very open to new technology," said tech activist Austin Heap.

Austin Heap is a tech activist who has consulted for the State Department in the past. He is best known for creating a proxy server that allowed Iranians to access internet sites blocked by the government during the country's post-election protests two years ago.

"You see activists more and more using tools like Twitter and Facebook and if the State Department wants to be relevant and they want their voice to be part of this conversation then they have to engage in what I'm calling direct digital diplomacy," said Heap.

Yet despite the seeming desire to become more relevant in this era of social media, experts question the wisdom of such tweets by the State Department. UC Berkeley Professor Steven Fish is an expert on regime change.

"These revolutions need to be made by the people themselves in the country without interference from the outside world and to the extent that external powers, especially the United States, associates itself with the democratic movement, it tends to discredit their democratic movements," said UC Berkeley Prof. Steven Fish, Ph.D.

It's unclear how much of a turnout there will be at Monday's protest, if it all. Iranian authorities have promised to crush such demonstrations. They have already detained several activists and journalists in recent weeks apparently in connection with the planned protest.


Load Comments