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Does Twitter Really Not Speak Farsi?

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, June 18 2009

A recent BusinessWeek's piece on Iran makes passing reference to the idea that Twitter "does not support the Farsi language, which limits its utility" in Iran. That's not to pick on BusinessWeek or its writer -- the same claim has popped up in other news reports in the last few days. If Twitter was incompatible with the most widely-spoken language of Iran, then that might lend some added weight to the idea that Twitter's role in and around Iran has been overblow. But what the thinking is behind that statement isn't exactly clear.

To start, Twitter supports publishing in Arabic (try tweeting out "سلام," for example), a language whose alphabet differs from that of Farsi/Persian only by the fact that the latter has four additional characters. Sources at a Washington DC-based Middle East think tank (one open to the possibility that the June 12th election was flawed) tell me that Twitter does indeed accept and display Farsi perfectly well. And a friend with roots in Iran, while admitting his Farsi is a bit rusty, points out that Voice of America's Persian News Network seems to have no trouble keeping up an active Twitter feed in Farsi.