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: 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.
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 Obama administration is prepping a new digital security plan, and it is: We need to retrofit the Internet for the FBI.
Long gone are the days when law enforcement could easy tap into land line telephones to monitor nefarious conversations. Those nefarious conversations have moved online, and increasingly to social networks like Facebook, peer-to-peer services like Skype, and elsewhere on the Web. In an effort to catch up, The New York Times reports, the administration will submit new legislation that would require companies to build in back doors for law enforcement.
The new regulations that would be sent to Congress next year would affect American and foreign companies that provide communications services inside the U.S. It would require service providers to make the plain text of encrypted conversations — over the phone, computer or e-mail — readily available to law enforcement, according to federal officials and analysts. [AP]
There is no escape.
If you thought you spent a lot of time tweeting and reading tweets before, that number could get even higher thanks to “@anywhere,” the site’s new feature announced at Austin’s South by Southwest festival (SXSW) this week. The platform is intended to allow third-party sites to integrate Twitter more deeply and smoothly than they currently can. The idea is to offer a more seamless experience to Twitter users navigating third party sites like the Huffington Post and the New York Times, giving them Twitter content without forcing them to jump off the page they’re currently viewing [TechCrunch].
Twitter CEO Evan Williams went fairly light on the specifics of the new system, and gave no release date, during his keynote Q&A at SXSW, but some details have come out. The way Twitter has described it, @anywhere will allow readers of articles at The New York Times and other sites to click and follow writers directly from their bylines, and—judging by what Evan Williams told Anil Dash on Twitter—will also let them click and see information about popular Twitter users who are mentioned on a participating site [BusinessWeek]. By expanding the microblogging site’s reach, @anywhere appears to be Twitter’s answer to Facebook Connect, but BusinessWeek complains that the feature—at least based on what people know about it right now—isn’t much to write home about.
You never know who is checking out your Facebook profile, reading your tweets, or looking at your MySpace messages. But if you broke the law or are under scrutiny from the feds, then the FBI may already be “following” your online activities on different social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.
A new internal Justice Department document obtained by San Francisco-based civil liberties group, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), details how federal agencies like the IRS and the FBI are now using social media to monitor suspects’ online activities and also track down their whereabouts. The document, obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, makes clear that U.S. agents are already logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target’s friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs and video clips [AP].
The investigators are also using the sites to check suspects’ alibis with details of their whereabouts posted on Facebook and Twitter. And online photos from a suspicious spending spree — people posing with jewelry, guns or fancy cars — can link suspects or their friends to robberies or burglaries [AP].
For folks who already spend most of their time updating Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, here is one more site to add to the mix. None other than Google has decided to jump into the social networking fray by launching Google Buzz–a social networking tool that is also integrated with email and mobile phones.
Buzz can be accessed through any Gmail account and lets users share updates, photos, links, or anything else with their Gmail contacts. Bloggers have likened it to Twitter, except that it dwells within your Gmail. Google has already rolled out Buzz to some journalists, and Gmail users can expect to see it within their inboxes over the next couple of days.
The Buzz tab will be located right below your inbox tab. To get someone started with Buzz, Gmail is expected to pull info about the user’s contacts to create a list of people who the user frequently emails and instant messages with. This list becomes the blueprint for the people the user “follows.” The user can then “buzz” them, sharing pictures and links. When a user posts to Google Buzz, he can share publicly to followers and his Google profile, or privately to his existing Gmail groups or custom groups. Notifications of shares and comments will appear in a user’s inbox with a special Buzz icon next to those items. Comments will appear in real time [ReadWriteWeb].