Last week the Egyptian government shut off the nation’s Internet access in an attempt to diffuse the protests, but protesters still found ways to tweet to the world what was happening in the streets.
Violent demonstrations erupted across Egypt, as citizens attempted to show their dissatisfaction with the country’s President, Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for the past 30 years.
Egyptian protestors used the social networking site Twitter to organize and share their struggle with the rest of the world. In an effort to limit communication and bring the situation under control, the government shut down the country’s internet access on January 27th.
Despite this intervention, the tweets continued with protestors using mobile devices and the internet connections of friends in neighboring countries. In response, the government used its emergency power under the Telecommunications Act to have the Vodafone Group, a major cellular provider in Egypt, send pro-Mubarak texts to its customers.
Google joined forces with Twitter to develop Speak to Tweet, a service that allows tweeting without the need for internet access. Users of the service can dial one of three international numbers and leave a voicemail, which will be sent out as a tweet.
In the past we relied upon centralized sources, such as television and radio, for our news. With control in the hands of a select few, government intervention was easy. The Internet fragments control of the news and places it in the hands of the people. Sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook will continue to virally spread news even in the absence of traditional news sources. And, even when browsing restrictions are put in place, there are technologies that can be used to bypass them. There is an excellent article on the blog Mashable, which describes how Egyptians have been bypassing government restrictions.
Last week’s incident demonstrated why the internet is becoming a threat to non-democratic regimes around the world. It will be interesting to see what effect the Internet will have on the spread of democracy in the coming years.