As the world's political and media spotlights focussed on the Iranian elections, the Internet was always expected to play an important role in keeping people up to date with developments, but little did we know the Web would also prove to be the scene of political unrest.
As news emerged that incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had secured 62.6 percent of the 46.2 million votes cast compared to rival Mir Hossein Mousavi's 33.75 percent, tweets started circulating from a section of the country's disappointed and disenfranchised voters.
Even before Friday's elections took place, Twitter had proved a popular outlet for a handful of Iranian nationals to communicate with the outside world, with many expressing their fears, hopes and excitement about the elections. With voting over and the results in, Twitter was used by some of Ahmadinejad's followers to convey their triumph, while Mousavi's supporters posted messages of outrage and disillusionment.
With newspaper coverage restricted, phone lines down, websites blocked and the voices of protesters muffled by tear-gas hurling and truncheon-wielding anti-riot police, the social networking site was one of the limited ways to connect with people.
In 140-characters, Twitter was used to mobilise demonstrations against Ahmadinejad while others used it to provide real-time accounts of the conflict unravelling on the streets of Teheran, as well as posting related links from other sites. Meanwhile, other observers also used Twitter to criticise foreign media coverage of the elections, namely CNN who decided to broadcast reruns of chat show host Larry King, instead of uninterrupted reporting of the elections and subsequent furore, as many viewers had expected. Fox News and MSNBC were also criticised for the same reasons. Going by the username of Public_Interest, one person wrote he was "astounded that CNN would even CONSIDER doing a Larry King rerun what with all going on in Iran this weekend" and used the "CNNfail" label, which has been adopted by the Twitter community.
Despite the backlash, CNN was one of the first news organisations to report that an ideological battle had broken out on the Internet via Twitter: "Tear gas and Twitter: Iranians take their protests online" went the headline. Octavia Nasr wrote that with "the absence of text messaging and mobile services - both were cut off across the country on and around election day and were still blocked on Sunday - Twitter proved to be the most reliable communication technique between people inside Iran and millions of others on the outside thirsty for any update."
YouTube also proved popular, with many Ahmadinejad critics posting videos of the conflict on the ground, while others used the video platform to voice their criticism.
Until Facebook was blocked off by the authorities - along with some pro-Mousavi websites - it had also been used as a strategic weapon against the Ahmadinejad campaign, with organisers using the site to locate and engage with sympathisers, as well as coordinating meetings and, later, protests. One specific Facebook account, "Iran", which describes itself as the "Official Iran Page" had this as its latest entry: "Mousavi's official setad site, has officially confirmed the march from Enghelab to Azadi, tomorrow (Monday) and a national strike on Tuesday ... Also, pls post on Facebook - it is blocked, but many can bypass filter and access it." It is not clear if the administrator for this account was based in Iran or not.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Twitter had remained blocked throughout much of the weekend suggesting that many of the Iranian voices criticising the elections may have come from elsewhere within the Iranian Diaspora, although, it is possible that individuals managed to bypass the blockade.
On Sunday, the country's national newspapers refrained from commenting on the political uprising indicating government intervention had played a part, although some state television did show limited footage of the violence.
At a press conference following his win, Ahmadinejad laughed off concerns about the restrictions being imposed on the press: "Don't worry about freedom in Iran," he said. "Newspapers come and go and reappear. Don't worry about it."
By taking the fight online, both domestic and foreign critics of the Iranian government showed the potential that social networking sites have in reaching wider audiences, as well as helping to give an alternative version of events, that often contradict the official version promoted by the state.
Outside of Iran, foreigners covering the events also showed that they too can monitor how their governments and media react to and report such events, as the New York Times notes: "The performance of the American cable news, especially CNN, spawned an online protest by thousands on Saturday and Sunday, showing that viewers can try to pressure news organizations about their coverage in real time via the Internet.