Following what many consider to be fraudulent elections that swept incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to victory, Iran has been mired in instability. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians, predominantly students, have taken to the streets to express support for reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi and to demand democracy, the rule of law, and greater freedom.
The American administration has stayed clear of meddling in the Iranian crisis. Gregor Peter Schmitz of Der Spiegel wrote that "Barack Obama is taking a cautious approach to the disputed Iranian elections and has even said there is little difference between the candidates. The US president knows the ayatollahs wield the real power in Tehran -- and doesn't want to jeopardize negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program."
David Frum, of the Conservative think-tank, American Enterprise Institute, agreed with the American position
, noting that "words of support from an American cannot much help the protesters -- and may hurt them, by exciting nationalist feelings the regime can exploit against them."
Yet while the American administration may not be playing a direct and visible role in the situation in Iran it would be foolish and naive to believe that America is not playing a role at all. This is, after all, the same Iran whose tense relations with America and much of the West are nothing new.
Twitter has been an enormously active tool in the Iranian situation. As the crisis hit, the social networking tool exploded with messages describing the situation on the ground. Twitter became even more pertinent as journalists were forced to stay in their hotels or barred from entering the country. It isn't the first time Twitter
and other social networking tools have been at the centre of tense international situations.
According to Mashable
, a social media guide,
"the U.S. government is connecting with Twitter and other major social media companies to make sure that the flow of information from Iran remains uninterrupted. While the Obama administration itself keeping out of the Iran controversy on official channels, it is making sure that information coming from people on the ground is getting through to the rest of the world."
Mashable added that the State Department asked Twitter to postpone maintenance that would shut down service so that Iranians continued to have unfettered access to sharing the circumstances they face in Iran.
Mashable's source was a post by Elise Labbott, a CNN State Department Producer, who wrote
that the Obama administration
"want to make sure the technology is able to play its sorely-needed role in the crisis, which is why the State Department is advising social networking sites to make sure their networks stay up and running for Iranians to use them and helping them stay ahead of anyone who would try to shut them down."
If this is the case, social-networking sites may face greater resistance in a number of countries. In fact, they already have. In the run-up to the Tiananmen Square anniversary earlier this month, China shut down Twitter and other sites.
For now, however, the Iranian people are still able to communicate their experiences and they have a quiet backer on their side: the American administration.