NPR logo Iran's Struggle For Free Expression On Twitter

Iran's Struggle For Free Expression On Twitter

How Iranians took to the street is on full display on Twitter. The narrative is raw and emotional but perhaps the most interesting thing I've seen is the exchange of functioning proxies. In some ways, it's the most vivid example I've seen in my lifetime of the struggle for free expression.

At its technical core, it's people pointing to online servers that government censors haven't yet blocked and that can relay news, information and social networking sites like Twitter.

This morning, The New York Times has an interview with Austin Heap, a 25-year-old from San Francisco who is setting up private proxies for Iranians. The paper reports:

He said on Monday that his servers were providing the Internet connections for about 750 Iranians at any one moment.

"I think that cyber activism can be a way to empower people living under less than democratic governments around the world," he said.

On Twitter, read through the search results of Functioning Iran and you'll see a real-time arch. You'll see new proxy addresses appearing every few minutes and instructions on how to post them and more importantly where not to post them.

One popular retweet reads, "Send Functioning Iran proxies to @StopAhmadi, do not post them on #iranelection! They [the Iranian government] are screening."

What's amazing is that this is nothing like turning one's avatar green in a show of support. Something like that feels trite in a moment when the streets are ablaze and humans have died. But the sharing of proxies, on the other hand, that exchange of useful information becomes an important narrative of a dramatic, real-life conflict between a government and the world.