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A Web of support for Iranians

As Iran cracks down, Internet users and online firms are stepping in to help people organize.

NEW YORK - Google and Facebook have rushed out services in Farsi. Twitter users have changed their home cities to Tehran to provide cover for Internet users there. Others have configured their computers to serve as relay points to bypass Iranian censorship.

In the aftermath of the disputed Iranian election, Internet companies and individuals around the world have stepped in to help Iranians communicate and organize.

Twitter delayed a maintenance shutdown so people could keep accessing the microblogging site. Scores of Americans set up remote proxy servers so Iranians could reach blocked Web sites.

All week, Internet users around the world fixed their eyes on the events unfolding in Iran, the way viewers might have been glued to their television sets 30 years ago. But unlike 30 or even five years ago, this time they could participate.

"Even if we can't help directly, this is a way of helping indirectly," said Ian Souter, 24, an unemployed computer animator in Lafayette, Ind.

He and other U.S. Web users set up ways for Iranians to get online using Tor, a service that lets people use the Internet anonymously.

Even the file-sharing site Pirate Bay, best known for its run-ins with the law over copyright infringement, has jumped in with the launch of a network that helps Iranians surf anonymously.

Still, it was difficult to tell just how much of this information was accessible to people inside Iran. The government has restricted communications channels, and cell-phone service has been spotty. Many sites were blocked and service has been much slower than normal.

Even the use of proxies has grown more difficult as the government finds them, and the country's Revolutionary Guard has sternly warned people against posting objectionable content on Web sites.

Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks Inc. of Chelmsford, Mass., said Iran's telecommunications monopoly had cut back the speed of its Internet connections to the outside world, presumably to increase its ability to filter the data.

Flash-based video, the kind used by YouTube, is also being stifled, Labovitz said.

One Tehran resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation, said by e-mail Friday that the government had "filtered Facebook but we use proxy."

"We will protest until they change the results. We hope hope hope," the resident wrote.

It was such protesters that Twitter users like Arik Fraimovich were hoping to stand behind - if only online.

Fraimovich, 24, of Israel, who describes himself as a "geek and entrepreneur," created an application that lets him and other Twitter users easily tint their profile pictures green, the trademark color of reformist candidate Mir Hossain Mousavi.