This article was published 13 years ago

New ways to shut down Internet; new ways to stay connected

Cairo Mubarak Egypt 2011 revolution
Protestors march Cairo, Egypt to demand that President Mubarak step down. – Image credit: Flickr / Al Jazeera English

The Internet did what other countries’ military power could not: start a peoples’ revolution that’s currently sweeping the world with those still in power struggling to retain control. It’s possible to assume that Vint Cerf did not vision the people, yearning for freedom and basic human rights, could use the  Internet to topple dictatorship regimes.

First to fall was Tunisia after a fruit vendor set himself on fire on December 17, 2010 to protest the confiscation of his fruit cart and beaten up by government officials. A political movement was started and after weeks of violent protests, then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on January 14, 2011, after 23 years in power.

When the protests moved from Tunisia to Egypt, it became clear that online sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr were heavily influencing protests in the country. Then-president Hosni Mubarak saw the tide turning against him and did something that has never been done before: cutting off Internet access to the entire country.

It was unusual for a president to cut off Internet access for an entire country; usually blocking access to sites it deemed offensive. When the Iranian green revolution occurred following the presidential election in 2009, the government only cut off access to many sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr as well as foreign news outlets like CNN, BBC News and the New York Times. The Iranian government did not block access to many of its’ websites: like the state-run Press TV and government websites.

Instead of restricting access to some websites, the Egyptian government terminated all Internet connections: nothing in, nothing out. Users in Egypt could not access Facebook; users outside of Egypt could not access government sites and state-run media channels as well as Egypt Airlines. The Mubarak regime even turned off wireless phone service in the country; even sending pro-Mubarak text messages to all wireless phones in the country.

With Egypt in an internet black-hole, the Internet community stepped up to get Egyptians online to tell the world the events that were going on inside a blacked-out country. European ISPs activated vacant modem banks to allow Egyptians to use telephone landlines to connect back online using dial-up connections that many considered an abandoned technology when broadband was rolled out. A voice-to-text service provided by Google and Twitter allowed Egyptians to call and have their message sent to Twitter while volunteers worked feverishly to translate the Arabic voicemails to English.

Internet service was eventually restore and more people joined the protests for Mubarak to resign. And he did the following week by a military coup.

But the political wave movement was in full swing and still surging. In a one month period two dictators were forced to step down from a peoples’ revolution that was organized through social media. And now the protests have spread to 19 other countries: Iran, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Jordan, Algeria, Djibouti, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, Morocco, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and even China.

The latest country that’s becoming a battle ground is Libya with fierce fighting that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths with no end in sight. And with Qaddafi seeing his power slipping away, he copied the tactics Egypt used: cutting off Internet access.

But it did not stop the protest as Libyans drove thousands of miles to the Egypt border to upload footage and files to Internet for the world to see a glimpse of life inside Libya.

These new tactics of getting your message out has changed since the 60s revolutions that occurred in Central and South America and the Middle East.

When rebels wanted to take control of a country the first item to claim was the television and radio stations. Now they don’t have to take over the TV to get their message across; all you need is a Facebook account and get a lot of people to join your side.

And those in power can’t stop the Internet. They may try to cut off access but there are ways to remain online to get the message out to the world.