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.
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.
Today WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, wanted in connection with sex-related charges in Sweden, turned himself in to the police in London. And while Assange’s personal troubles escalate, so does the online war over WikiLeaks.
Last week came the cyber attack against WikiLeaks.org, which hacker “Jester” claimed to have organized.
On his blog, Jester describes himself as a”hacktivist for good” and someone who is “obstructing the lines of communication for terrorists, sympathizers, fixers, facilitators, oppressive regimes and other general bad guys.” [Los Angeles Times]
That disrupted the site’s operation and left WikiLeaks scrambling. But this week the tide of hacking has turned: Hackers operating under the names Operation Payback or Anonymous are targeting sites that have withdrawn support from WikiLeaks during the current controversy.
Noa Bar Yossef, senior security strategist for Imperva, commented via e-mail to say, “Operation Payback’s goal is not hacking for profit. In the classical external hacker case we see hackers grab information from wherever they can and monetize on it. In this case though, the hackers’ goal is to cripple a service, disrupt services, protest their cause and cause humiliation. In fact, what we see here is a very focused attack – knocking the servers offline due to so-called ‘hacker injustice’.” [PC World]
Last week an account going by the name @PeaceKaren_25 was suspended by Twitter.com. We wouldn’t normally care about some spambot getting picked off, but PeaceKaren is important because she wasn’t peddling porn or popups–she was a political puppet.
Karen and her sister account @HopeMarie_25 are examples of political “astroturf,” fake Twitter accounts that create the illusion of a “grassroots” political movement. In the diagram above, the two accounts are connected by a very thick band, which indicates that Marie constantly re-tweeted everything Karen said. Together they sent out over 20,000 tweets in the last four months promoting the Twitter account and website of Republican congressional leader John Boehner.
Such messages were cataloged and analyzed by Indiana University’s Truthy project, which takes its name from Stephen Colbert’s concept of “truthiness.” The goal of the project is to seek out propaganda and smear campaigns conducted via false Twitter accounts.
Yesterday’s Twitter meltdown was caused by a known flaw that resurfaced with the help of a 17-year-old Australian and a Scandinavian developer, among others.
Google took its two newest steps on the march toward world domination this week, first rolling out a feature that lets people make free phone calls from Gmail, and then introducing real-time searching of fast-updating information, like tweets.
The first initiative is off to a hot start. Gmail users placed more than a million phone calls through Google on the service’s first day Wednesday.
Calling from within Gmail, by contrast, requires nothing more than installing a small plug-in program (available for Windows XP or newer, Mac OS X 10.4 or newer and some versions of Linux) and logging into Gmail. Click the “Call phone” link to the left of your inbox, type in a number, click the big blue “Call” button and things proceed as if you had just finished spinning a Bell System phone’s rotary dial [Washington Post].
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].