Data: Online, Iranians turning to Facebook during crisis

All the recent media coverage about Twitter’s central role in covering Iranian political news got me wondering — on Twitter, of course — how many people are actually using the service inside of Iran. I got a couple responses, in the form of anecdotal statistics from web companies. It seems that Iranians are mostly using Facebook.

Here’s the first piece of information: Widget-maker Clearspring offers a sharing widget called AddThis for sites, where users can share blog posts and other information on to a wide range of social networks, including Facebook and Twitter as well as email. The company tracks what services people share to, as well as other information like user’s locations. Web pages that have the AddThis are viewed some 20 billion times a month by people in more than 20 languages, so the company has a decent data sample to pull from.

Social network Facebook, not Twitter, is seeing the biggest surge in traffic after the election, Clearspring chief executive Hooman Radfar tells me. On June 12, the day of the allegedly-fraudelent election in Iran, traffic first surged to Facebook. The number of Iranians who shared items to Facebook through AddThis went up from around 25 percent of all AddThis shares on June 11th to around 40 percent on the 12th. Iranian Twitter shares from Addthis stayed at its normal 5 percent through the 12th, then rose to more than 8 percent on the 13th — a day after the elections.

What was shared? Radfar has some interesting answers there, too — he has been following this data especially closely because he’s Persian and he has a lot of family in Iran. He tells me single largest number of links was, of course, about the election. The second most shared type of link, perhaps surprisingly, is tips for using proxy internet services, wherein users can access the web as if they were on a computer in another country, and so escape detection from authorities. The third most shared type of link was Iranian blogs. Speaking of proxies: Another trend that Radfar sees is which services are getting blocked by the government — his server logs can show when the sharing action stops.

What does this information say about Facebook and Twitter?

What Clearspring is seeing is just a piece of what’s going on right now. It doesn’t show the overall amount of sharing on Facebook and Twitter or other social networks — and doesn’t include other ways of sharing, like email. But it suggest some interesting things. One is that Facebook has really nailed the Iranian market. Radfar guesses that a lot of the Facebook sharing by Iranians is a result of them trying to reach friends and family in North America and Europe who are also on the site. Facebook’s real-life connections apparently make it the leading choice.

And now, the second piece of data I found out via Twitter: Social media analytics firm Sysomos tells me it has figured out “there are about 8,000 Twitter users in Iran – people who have disclosed in their profiles where they live.” If true, that’s not too many people. On the other hand, Twitter is more about broadcasting — and, as a result, it seems to be popular with journalists and bloggers. A lot of the U.S. media attention has focused on how Twitter, not Facebook or other services (like now-blocked FriendFeed), is being used to help Iranians reach the outside world during the crisis. The reality, though, is that any service that lets people easily and freely share information can be a tool in the hands of people trying to spread information during a political crisis. The reality, in terms of where these services are today: Twitter is a great way to spread news quickly to the public, while Facebook is a great way to to share information quickly with your friends and family.

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