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Don't tweet the small stuff

Proving that Iranians don’t have a monopoly on Twitter activism, young professional Pakistanis regularly tweet their minds.

A man browses the official website of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on the internet in Islamabad. (Mian Khursheed/Reuters)

ISLAMABAD — Soon after the Supreme Court had declared former President Pervez Musharraf’s November 2007 emergency rule to be illegal, Pakistani students, doctors, engineers and lawyers went online to express their delight or annoyance.

One social networking website that brimmed with these voices, displaying them within 140 characters or less, was Twitter.

“The nation should promise never to support unconstitutional steps in future!” said one ‘tweet.’

“If Pakistan's Supreme Court is so holier-than-thou, how come the blind eye to [President] Zardari's corruption?” said another.

In the West, Twitter is used as much by college kids broadcasting their daily lives as by celebrities, journalists and social activists. But in Pakistan, the site is used mainly by professional, urban youths who primarily seek to vent their political views. Tweets poke and dissect the day’s news — from the recent military operation in Swat to the PPP-led government’s failure to produce electricity — and strive to explain a country that has become a crucial player on the international stage. But in a country where only 10 percent of people use the internet (17,500,000 users as of March 2008, according to, Twitter is clearly a very new phenomenon used almost entirely by those with an agenda to raise issues before a global forum.

“I usually don't do personal tweets,” said a 25-year-old student, Abdullah Saad, who also runs a hardware and games review website. “You'll find me tweeting either about technology or politics.”

Consider a recent tweet by Saad: “Will the international media pick up news about Government of Pakistan trying to stifle political dissent?”

Saad first started using Twitter to organize rallies against Musharraf when he sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — almost a year before Iran’s citizens hit the news for similar reasons following that country’s controversial June presidential election.

“Twitter was easy to use and a fabulous tool to coordinate and get your word out, in little or no time,” he said.

But he admitted that the campaign wasn’t on a scale observed later in Iran. “There just weren't that many Pakistanis on it.”