Opposition leaders and activists in Moldova have been using text messages, blogs, and social-networking sites like Twitter
to draw thousands of people to antigovernment demonstrations
in the capital following preliminary election results that show the ruling Communist Party winning the majority in weekend parliamentary elections.
Alexei Ghertescu, a 27-year-old lawyer, standing on the capital city Chisinau's main square on April 8, tells RFE/RL that Twitter -- which allows registered users to both post and receive short messages, known as "tweets," from their mobile phones or computers -- has been a key source of up-to-date information about developments across the country.
"I just received updated information about what is going on at the square in the center of the city, and on the [closed] border [with Romania] and from other places," Ghertescu says. "So it is actually a main source of information for me about what is going on."
Ghertescu says he doesn't think there is massive use of Twitter from protesters rallying on the square, but he says it has been used to get the message out about the time and location of protests.
"I heard that you can get some fresh information from Twitter. And then I decided to join Twitter only yesterday evening," Ghertescu says. "There was information about a meeting on the central square. And this information appeared on one or two Internet sites -- the opposition sites. And then it was spread around [with Twitter and text messages]."#pman
Most of the "tweets" about the protests have been labeled with the tag "#pman," which is shorthand for Piata Marii Adunari Nationale, the Romanian name of Chisinau's largest square. By searching for "#pman," Twitter readers can isolate a veritable news feed of the latest reports:
- "The west is hungry for more detail, post as much as you can, let them see what is hapening, Moldova don't give up and don't give in!!!"
- "Omg i feel so sick that i am living in Moldova, i just saw president Voronin saying that Romania is doing this ..."
- "The borders are still closed only big trucks are allowed! Moldavian Students are still not allowed to enter in their own country!"
- "Live from #pman ~2-3 000 people protesting calm.no violence.a lot of cops around government"
"So I think [the Internet and cell-phone networking] was one of the main reasons that people came," Ghertescu says. "Definitely, after this information appeared, I think [Twitter] was used by the opposition and other interested people just to gather people together on the main square."
This was a test of the ability of young people to benefit from their use of the Internet networks.
Information about protest rallies also was posted to opposition websites, as well as the websites of independent news organizations. But soon, many Internet users in Moldova found they could not get access to most websites with information about the protests.
Natalya Morar, one of the leaders of the ThinkMoldova youth movement, explained on her blog how she and five other activists spread the word about a demonstration on April 6 -- and managed to get more than 10,000 people to join the rally.
Morar says her group spent about 10 minutes discussing what to do. Then, she says, they worked for several hours disseminating information through Facebook and Twitter, as well as through blogs, mobile phone text messages, and e-mails.'Many Have Been Shut Down'
Adrian Blajinski, a 21-year-old economics student at the Free International University of Moldova, has been protesting on Chisinau's main square. Blajinski tells RFE/RL that he was only able to find information about the demonstrations by persistently searching the websites of independent news organizations.
"I wanted to participate myself in such a protest after hearing the official elections results because I think they have been rigged," Blajinski says. "I tried to find out more information about the elections from Moldovan state television, but it was broadcasting only movies and comedy programs -- nothing about what is going on [with the protests]. The other information source for me has been information news sites. I managed to find one Internet site that had not been shut down yet -- because many of them have been shut down -- and it was there that I found out about the protest [on April 7] and that the main square was already full."
Vasile Botnaru, RFE/RL's Chisinau Bureau chief, was among those who received e-mails and text messages from organizers of the protests. He says the electronic messages spread quickly.
"I received at least two e-mail messages inviting me on [April 6] to 'light a candle for the funeral' in the center of the city of Chisinau because of the Communist election victory," Botnaru says. "And these e-mail messages were asking the receivers to resend the message to all of the people they know. This is the way the information spread out like ripples on the surface of the water."
Botnaru says authorities were taken by surprise by the sudden appearance of thousands of young protesters on the square in front of Moldova's parliament building.
"This was a test of the ability of young people to benefit from their use of the Internet networks," Botnaru says.Facebook's 'Growing Popularity'
Botnaru says Facebook also has helped activists spread information about their planned protests -- even after the websites of news organizations and opposition parties were no longer accessible.
"I saw discussions on Facebook about these protests. Of course, this information was available on Facebook as well, because Facebook has a growing popularity in Moldova," Botnaru says.
But Botnaru says it appears that text messaging appears to have been a key tool for the young protest organizers to get the word out about their planned rallies.
Botnaru says the mobile-phone network went down in central Chisinau for about three hours on April 7 for users who subscribe through one of the two most popular providers in the country -- the company Orange. He says there are suspicions among demonstrators that government authorities were responsible for that outage.
However, another mobile-phone provider -- the private Moldcell -- reportedly was functional throughout the day.
Meanwhile, the owners of websites that have been inaccessible in recent days are investigating the cause of their problems. They say they have yet to determine if their websites were intentionally blocked by authorities with the goal of cutting communications between protesters, or if there simply has been a network failure because the system was overloaded by too much traffic.(with Valeria Vitu in Chisinau and Alexander Eftode in Prague)