Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 01:13 UK

Twitter Iran delay 'not forced'

Twitter CEO Evan Williams on BBC Two's Newsnight

Twitter's move to delay upgrade work after the disputed Iranian election was not a response to a US State Department request, co-founder Evan Williams says.

He told BBC Two's Newsnight that maintenance had been postponed until Iran's night time to continue to allow "the open exchange of information".

"We did it because... it was the best thing for supporting the information flow at a crucial time," he said.

Twitter was widely used by Iranians to co-ordinate demonstrations in June.

"We did delay some technical work," Mr Williams said.

"We had scheduled maintenance that would have been during the middle of the night or during the off-peak hours for us but it happened to be a very key time in Iran.

It doesn't take the place of journalists or news because you still need analysis, you still need verification of this information
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams

"We ended up putting that off a day or so, so that it was more in the middle of the night there."

Asked whether Twitter had been urged to do so by the US government, he said: "There were many people who asked us to do that, including someone from the State Department, but that's not why we did it.

"We did it because we thought it was the best thing for supporting the information flow there at a crucial time, and that's kind of what we're about - supporting the open exchange of information.

"So it seemed like the right thing to do."

Mr Williams also rejected claims by the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols - the Archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales - who argued at the weekend that social networking sites were undermining community life.

The archbishop blamed sites like MySpace and Facebook for encouraging "transient" friendships and said it meant society was losing its ability to build communities.

"I think it's kind of silly," said Mr Williams. "I would say anyone who says that isn't really familiar with the service because it's about humans connecting with each other and often in ways that they couldn't otherwise.

"It's the opposite of dehumanising as far as I'm concerned."

Reporting role

Twitter launched in 2006 as a side project inspired by the "away" notices people would leave on Instant Messenger.

The micro-blogging service has since become a global phenomenon, with some estimating there are now 45 million users worldwide.

Growth in the UK is said to have skyrocketed, with an extra three million people signing up in the past year.

Mr Williams said London had become the top Twitter-using city in the world.

Celebrity converts who have taken to "tweeting" include BBC presenter Jonathan Ross, actor Stephen Fry and tennis player Andy Murray.

During the last few months the service has also begun to play a key role in breaking news of world events.

Information about the Mumbai attacks last November and the crash-landing of a plane in the Hudson River in New York in January were transmitted via Twitter before many of the mainstream news channels had the story.

But Mr Williams said the site's speed at reporting such events did not mean it equated to journalism.

"It doesn't take the place of journalists or news because you still need analysis, you still need verification of this information," he said. "It adds another layer to the information ecosystem."

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