Media Helps Obama Admin. Take Credit for Twitter's Iran Coverage

June 18th, 2009 5:50 AM

Some attention has been paid to the fact that the microblogging service Twitter had decided to push off its scheduled maintenance Tuesday morning as the situation in Iran became steadily more embroiled in conflict. As it happened, Twitter was a major source of information coming out of that repressed society as news was happening. Twitter had, though, scheduled a few hours down time just when Iran was at a peak of activity. So, in order to keep the flow of communication to the outside world flowing, Twitter announced it would not turn off its service until Iran calmed down.

This is pretty interesting news, that a mere social networking site was so deeply involved in momentous news of the day and that it became so relied upon by people hungry for news and interested in discussing a major democratic movement is definitely a new thing. It is especially interesting because the U.S. media so badly fell down on its job of reporting activities in Iran making Twitter a vital tool for communication. But what was even more interesting was that Obama's State Department tried to claim credit for Twitter's decision to stay in operation during the day. Worse, the Old Media seemed to swallow the State Department's claims whole.

Perhaps the Obama administration realized that it was itself falling down on the job of reacting to Iran and wanted to steal at least some small positive news that day.

For instance, Reuters reported that Foggy Bottom had been the one to tell Twitter to keep its service rolling.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it had contacted the social networking service Twitter to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians who are disputing their election.

The Australian Broadcast Company also reported this U.S. State Dept. claim.

The US government asked micro-blogging service Twitter to delay maintenance plans because of the site's use as a communications tool by Iranians following their disputed election.

CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Blog also reported this State Dept. claim:

For example, senior officials say the State Department asked Twitter to refrain for going down for periodic scheduled maintenance at this critical time to ensure the site continues to operate. Bureau’s and offices across the State Department, they say, are paying very close attention to Twitter and other sites to get information on the situation in Iran.

It all sounds like the incredibly hip cats at Foggy Bottom, being all plugged into the Internet tubes and all, were right on top of the situation, eh? Reading those Tweets and Twits and stuff was of top national importance, they claimed. Why, maybe even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself is a Twit!

It seems that many Old Media outlets were hot to give the State Dept. credit, too.

Not so fast. Unfortunately for the State Dept., Twitter says the claim is not really true. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said, "'s important to note that the State Department does not have access to our decision making process." Stone told reporters that the State Dept. did not have anything to do with its decision to skip the down time.

That's two different stories, here.

So why did Obama's State Department try to claim credit for something it probably had no role in? Is it because the State Department realized it was out of the loop, without assets on the ground, completely irrelevant in one of the most important foreign policy stories of the day?

Or is Twitter just trying to reinforce that it isn't controlled by the U.S. government? Already one DailyKos poster was whipping up fear that Twitter is controlled by Washington. Maybe Twitter wanted to nip such talk in the bud? (H/T Mary Katharine Ham of the Weekly Standard Blog)

It does seem a bit hard to believe that Foggy Bottom is so on top of Twitter that it was first to urge the website not to shut down for maintenance. It's even harder to believe that so many news agencies reported the claims of State without checking with Twitter first.