Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, January 2011
What Happens to the Twitter Revolution When There Is No Internet?
France 24, January 28, 2011
By Eric Olander (text)
Egyptian authorities turned off nearly all digital communication channels early Friday morning, preventing access to the Internet. Yet, despite the government’s best efforts to silence its critics, a small group of Web users are getting through.
On Friday, at approximately 12:20 am local time in Cairo, almost all digital communications in and out of Egypt came to a sudden stop. In what appears to be a coordinated effort to contain the surging anti-government movement, Egyptian officials have apparently closed the country’s Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom operators to block most voice calls and access to the Internet.
Across the Internet, people are reacting with outrage over the unprecedented move to turn off the Web and block phone calls. Just minutes after Egypt’s data lines went dark, the popular short messaging service Twitter erupted with thousands of users who posted updates and their collective anger over the government’s decision to silence the Web.
There are reports on Twitter that some Egyptian Internet users are circumventing the government’s shut-down by accessing the Internet either by satellite, a foreign SIM card, or in some cases, via Noor [link], the only ISP the government seemingly permitted to remain operational. In those limited instances, Egyptian Twitter users are relying on what are known as ‘proxy’ servers that reside outside of the country to post their updates on Twitter and other social networking sites.
This is the same technique employed during the crackdown in Tunisia, the 2009 Iranian “Green Revolution” and regularly in China to circumvent the “Great Firewall.” Instead of typing a standard Web address such as www.twitter.com, the user instead enters the numbers 126.96.36.199 in the browser’s address bar. This numerical Web address accesses the external proxy server located outside of the country. By using these proxy servers, the user is then able to bypass most of the security controls imposed by the government.
While the vast majority of Egyptian Internet users are now unable to access popular social networking services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, millions of other Internet users from around the world are using these sites to relay information from within Egypt about the situation on the ground. Of all the major social networking sites, Twitter is by far the most active.
To follow the latest information on Egypt using Twitter, there are several key search terms, known as ‘hashtags,’ that are currently being used. In particular, Twitter users are using four different ‘hashtags’ in the discussion about Egypt.
It is very important to note that although Twitter is flowing with seemingly constant updates on events in Egypt and elsewhere, the quality of that information can vary widely. Since much of the content posted on Twitter is not vetted, rumors and innuendo are quite common.
Twitter hashtag: #egypt
landofthedave RT @MMflint: RT @jeffgibbstc Obama & Mubarak coordinated their speeches better than the Republicans did after the State of the Union. #egypt about 11 seconds ago rqskye RT @mousikopodilato: Egyptians MUST succeed, not only for their own sake, but for every people in the world who needs hope for change #Egypt #Jan25 about 11 seconds ago RJBridgeman Goodmorning #Egypt? my god! I close my eyes for a couple of hours and look at the mess they create! about 11 seconds ago
Twitter hashtag: #1m
MoustafaAyad Dear #Egypt, file complaints with the tanks Downtown (cc) Mubarak #Jan25 #1M about 1 hours ago DianaValerie RT @jerusalemfilms: tweet: Mubarak's speech sounds familiar so far.. Did BenAli send him a copy of his? #Egypt #1M #Jan28 about 1 hours ago awizahwa 33EEEEEEEEEEEBBBBBBB YAAAAAA MUUBAAARAAAAAAK!!!!!! #Jan25 #Egypt #1M #Dictatorship #Oppression #Bastard about 2 hours ago
Twitter hashtag: #jan25
coolcolo RT @SnarkoMarx: RT @lucorico: In a surprisingly straightforward move, the US names Mark Zuckerberg as the new US ambassador to Egypt. #Jan25 about 11 seconds ago rqskye RT @mousikopodilato: Egyptians MUST succeed, not only for their own sake, but for every people in the world who needs hope for change #Egypt #Jan25 about 11 seconds ago vabolium RT @NohaAtef: Bullets in the face?!!! Video http://bit.ly/gmndv2 #Egypt #Jan25 #Reuters about 12 seconds ago
Egypt’s knee-jerk Internet blackout
France 24, January 28, 2011,
By Sophie PILGRIM (text)
The blackout, which has cut Internet access for some nine out of ten of Web users, began at about half past midnight, when monitors outside the country recorded a spectacular drop in activity.
The Internet, a key tool in both organising gatherings and sharing video footage of demonstrations, including violent police crackdowns, is often the victim of nervous governments. Most Web-wary regimes – such as Iran, Pakistan and, more recently, Tunisia – tend to block addresses for community websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at times of unrest.
But the Egyptian government appears to have gone one step further, simply taking out the country’s official Domain Name Servers (DNS). The servers direct Web users to whichever address they’re searching for – even a start-up page. Without them, only Egypt’s most tech-savvy are able to go online. And that’s if they know the address of an unofficial DNS server.
Mobile phone lines have also been targeted: SMS text messages are blocked and the lines are disrupted, although foreign SIM cards are supposed to be working.
Ray of light
While almost all of the country’s Internet service providers are down, one of them managed to escape the axe. Noor, a relatively small provider, has continued to work throughout the day. This, presumably, is because it provides service to the country’s banks, oil companies, and stock market.
Some Web users have taken advantage of the loop-hole and are using their Noor dial-up connections to access the Web. However, even then, direct access to websites such as Facebook and Twitter is blocked.
In order to get around these blocks, proxy servers have to be employed. Several of these have already been posted online by the few Web users who are able to connect through Noor.
Looking up to Tunisia?
Egypt has a population some eight times the size of Tunisia’s, but a far less sophisticated public in terms of Web use. While it’s believed that between 10 and 20 per cent of Tunisians use Facebook (statistics are vague), only around five per cent of their Egyptian counterparts do. Prior to the recent unrest, the Tunisian government had been using censorship tools to stifle dissidents on the Web for years. Egypt, on the other hand, is relatively new to the threat of an online uprising.
This full-blown shut-down, which looks like a knee-jerk reaction to the country’s worst civil unrest in 30 years, will no doubt cause communication problems for Web users planning to protest Friday afternoon. Unless the government plans to enforce an indefinite ban on the Web, however, today’s stunt is unlikely to curb the protests in the long term.
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