Once the Egyptian government cut the Internet, the protests in Tahrir Square were joined by protests across the country.
What’s the News: Social networking has been a star of the Arab Spring revolutions. People can’t stop talking about how Twitter and Facebook helped protestors organize, and when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak suddenly cut access to the Internet and cell phone service on January 28th, many wondered how the protestors would share information and keep momentum. But as it turned out, depriving people of information had an explosive effect—far from the epicenter at Tahrir Square in Cairo, so many grassroots protests sprung up that the military was brought in. Two weeks later, Mubarak resigned.
Using the Egyptian revolution as a case study, a new paper makes the case that theories of group dynamics explain why access to information can actually have a quenching effect on revolutions, and argues that regimes that shut information sources down are signing their own death warrants.
What’s the News: To much fanfare, Google has released a preview version of Google+, their long-anticipated move into the social-networking space dominated in the U.S. by Facebook, whose meteoric growth challenges Google’s dominance over the Web itself. The new service lets users send messages and pictures to each other, like Facebook, but puts more emphasis on grouping and communicating with different groups of people, as with email or in meatspace (i.e., the real world).
The two consensus early reactions (from the small group of people who have access) are that the service is mostly smooth and functional, a welcome change after Google’s social flops Buzz and Wave; and that it sure looks a heck of a lot like Facebook. Will that be enough to challenge Facebook, whose enormous base of users have uploaded much of their lives to one social network and may not want to invest time in another?
What’s the News: Radio and television broadcasters in France must soon abandon self-promoting messages like, “Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.” The French equivalent of the FCC, the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA), is banning the mention of specific social-networking sites on the radio or TV. While this rule applies to all online social networks, the ruling was directed at the juggernauts Facebook and Twitter.
“Why give preference to Facebook, which is worth billions of dollars, when there are other social networks that are struggling for recognition,” explains CSA spokeswoman Christine Kelly (via the Guardian).
“May your day be full of jasmine.” “My lady, how I want to climb this wall of silence.” “I LLLLLove you.” No, this isn’t the tortured verse of botanically inclined lovesick teens. It’s the coded poetry of revolution.
As uprisings spread across northern Africa this month, protesters lit up social networking sites with updates—even Egypt’s attempt to shut off the Internet couldn’t stop them completely. But in Libya, where the fight is getting hotter and hotter, few people use sites like Facebook or Twitter, and many would be afraid to write there openly. So protest leader Omar Shibliy Mahmoudi found a place where they could speak in code: dating sites.
Mahmoudi – leader of the Ekhtalef, or “Difference,” movement – acted as if he was looking for a wife under the profile name “Where is Miriam?” and sent coded love letters to spur people to revolution. Since men cannot talk to other men on the site, revolutionaries posed as women to make contact with Mahmoudi, taking on names such as “Sweet Butterfly,” “Opener of the Mountain,” “Girl of the Desert” and “Melody of Torture.” [Herald Sun]
Once Mahmoudi connected with his sham love interests on the website (called Mawada), they bantered in cryptic poetry to suss out the other’s feelings. The “jasmine” reference above is a nod of support to the ongoing Jasmine Revolution. The five L’s in “”I LLLLLove you” means that a person has five supporters with them.
You know it’s getting serious when people aren’t using Facebook. The social networking giant now says it has noticed significantly reduced traffic from Egypt as a result of the Egyptian government’s attempt to shut down its country’s Internet this week to quash political protests. Though we’ve seen governments attempt to censor the Internet in times of uprising before (like during the 2009 Iranian election), Forbes says this is “the first time in modern history a major Internet economy is being shut down.”
Mobile phone networks have reportedly been disrupted, leaving millions without access to text messaging or phone calls. The country’s key Internet Service Providers are also off the air, says James Cowie, the chief technology officer of Internet monitoring firm Renesys on his blog. “Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide. [Forbes]
Indeed, Cowie says, this is something new compared to other government internet censorship:
Similar demonstrations and Web outages are occurring in Tunisia, though Cowie noted that the Egypt Internet downtime “is a completely different situation from the modest Internet manipulation that took place in Tunisia, where specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow.” [PC Magazine]
Thoughts of a government being able to just “turn off the Internet” has people in other countries frightened, but it was particularly easy to achieve in Egypt.
Social networking or leaked secrets? TIME has made its choice, naming baby-faced Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg its 2010 person of the year rather than WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
In gracing the cover of the venerable weekly news magazine, he joins a list that includes such historical figures as Joseph Stalin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He is one of the youngest recipients of the award. Charles Lindbergh, in 1927, was the youngest person ever to receive the recognition; he was 25. [Portfolio]
Given Facebook’s growing ubiquity in our lives, Zuckerberg could have been chosen any of the last several years. (Comedian John Hodgman needled TIME on Twitter to this effect, writing “Time Magazine just named its Person of The Year 2007.”) But in 2010 Zuckerberg couldn’t escape the zeitgeist, whether making news for fiddling with his social network’s privacy settings—again—or being the subject of an uncomfortable portrayal in the hit film The Social Network.
Runners-up for “Person of the Year” were the Tea Party movement, an upstart political group; Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan; Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, a website that publishes classified documents; and the Chilean miners, a group of 33 men who were trapped in a mine for more than two months. [BusinessWeek]
Around the United States today, a few thousand lucky people are trying out Facebook’s newest step in its quest to be the site you never leave. It’s roll-out day for the company’s new @facebook.com all-inclusive messaging system. So what does Mark Zuckerberg have in store for us?
All Together Now
The main message from Zuckerberg and director of engineering Andrew Bosworth: Old-school email, with formalities like bcc’s and subject lines, is out. An informal mish-mash of communication is in.
Facebook’s messaging system is different than any other email service (namely, Gmail) in that it doesn’t just collect email. Texts and SMS, IMs and chat, emails and Facebook messages–“they don’t work that well together,” explained Bosworth. Now, they’ll all be assembled into one thread, blurring the lines of what an “inbox” is. So, rather than having your texts stored on your phone, and your IMs stored on iChat, and your emails stored on Yahoo, Facebook will compile your messages into one place. [Fast Company]
There Is No Escape
Buried in the deep recesses of your email account, you probably have messages dating back so far that reading them makes you wonder who you used to be. With Facebook’s integrated messaging system, your texts, emails, Facebook messages, and more would all be saved.
Like other e-mail systems, the Facebook messaging system will now save a conversation history, which executives said could maintain a sort of oral history. “Imagine you have the entire history of your conversation from ‘Hey, nice to meet you, want to get coffee?’ to ‘Hey, can you pick up the kids.’ Five years from now, a user can have this full rich history with your friends and the users around you,” Zuckerberg said. [PC Magazine]
Like many of Zuckerberg’s statements, this one can be read as either sentimental or terrifying depending on your comfort level with Facebook.
The Social Network arrives in theaters around America today. Written by Aaron Sorkin (creator of the TV shows The West Wing and Sports Night), the film purports to tell the tale of Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook at Harvard, and drips with backstabbing high drama. The early reviews are in, and the forming consensus is: It’s a fabulous film, but don’t go to the cinema expecting the truth.
The Facebook company itself has called the film a fiction. But that’s partly because Zuckerberg has shown no inclination to discuss his history—at least not with the creators of this film.
What makes The Social Network more intriguing than a standard biopic is that it was made without the co-operation of its principal subject — whose own mission in life seems to be to let us all make unauthorised biographies of each other. Personality and motivation inferred from a smattering of potentially misleading facts: isn’t that precisely the kind of thing that worries people about Facebook? [New Scientist]
As of this writing, the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Facebook page has nearly 83,000 likes and is rising steadily. Presumably, none of those fans are in the government of Pakistan, as the page prompted the conservative Muslim country to block first Facebook, but then also YouTube, parts of Wikipedia, and other Web sites—more than 450 in all.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) keeps itself busy scanning the Internet for material that it says would offend its population, the second-largest Muslim population of any country. Two years ago it temporarily banned YouTube until the site removed cartoons of Mohammed. Typically the PTA bans particular links, but this week it complained that the amount of objectionable material on Web was increasing and decided to cut off it citizens from some of the biggest sites on the Web. The ban is said to run through the end of May, giving Web sites the chance to remove offending materials if they choose.
Social networking sites are extremely popular in Pakistan, a country of 170 million, where more than 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25. Pakistan has about 25 million Internet users, almost all of them young, according to Adnan Rehmat, a media analyst in Islamabad [The New York Times].
So you already spend all your time on Facebook—that’s not enough for the social networking giant. Soon, it will want to know where you spend all your time (in the real world).
Over the weekend, TechCrunch identified a glitch in Facebook’s mobile site that allowed them to see a space for a new feature called “places” being built in the code.
Based on the code, this is what it seems that Facebook is about to launch: A mobile version of the site using the HTML5 location component to grab your location information from your phone. Once it does that, you’re taken to this new Places area of Facebook that presumably will have a list of venues around you. From here you can click a button to check-in. Yes, there will be check-ins [TechCrunch].
It appears that Facebook plans to jump into the world of being a location-based service in the vein of Foursquare or Gowalla. But rather than launching its own service to crush the two smaller companies, Facebook may consider buying up Foursquare. Rumors to that effect circulated this weekend because in addition to the code leak, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg paid a visit to Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley.
The possibilities are tantalizing, especially because we think if Foursquare really wants to sell, Facebook would be its best buyer. We’re also pretty sure Facebook has interest in Foursquare at the right price. Remember, a few months ago there were some rumors that Facebook kicked the tires on Foursquare rival Gowalla [San Francisco Chronicle].