As Egyptians continuing protesting their political regime, the country’s government is consequentially stripping away access to social media websites. Earlier this morning, Twitter confirmed via its site that the country had blocked it, and Facebook has seen outages, as well as censorship of content relating to the presidential and prime minister’s demanded resignations.
The protests in the country began as a call to end the decades-long dictatorship of president Hosni Mubarak, who has been tied to Egypt’s struggling economy, poverty, and faltering and largely corrupt government. For the last two days, some 20,000 citizens have taken to the streets chanting “Down with Hosni Mubarak, down with the Tyrant. We don’t want you.”
In response, protestors have been met with arrests, rubber bullets, tear gas, and water canons. Nearly one thousand demonstrators have been arrested, and three people have been killed, including one policeman. As we’ve seen in similar events of political unrest, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have been used as communication tools to rally dissidents as well as communicate the situation globally, and thus are being subjected to government censorship. According to The Guardian, YouTube, Hotmail, Google, and Chinese search engine Baidu have also reportedly been blocked from inside the country.
The unfolding events are extremely reminiscent of the protests following the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Before the controversial elections even took place, Iran cut off citizens’ access to Facebook to keep the incumbent’s supporters from using the site. During the riots following the election, Twitter became a tool for the masses, and was actually requested to postpone an upgrade in order to allow citizens’ continuous use. Tensions within the Middle East have always been and continue to be tense, and only recently did US software export regulations loosen, permitting Google to offer new free downloads to Iranian citizens.
While the situation hearkens to Iran’s own civil revolt, it’s nearby Tunisia that has inspired Egypt. Taking cues from the revolt that toppled former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptians have been echoing Tunisian’s actions, including their use of Twitter and other social media outlets to coordinate.
Now Egypt finds itself in the throes of an uprising that it will try to quell by wiping out these means of communication. In an email to CNET, Facebook confirmed there had been “reports of disruption to service, but [we] have not seen any major changes in traffic from Egypt.” On its own account, @TwitterGlobalPR, the site announced it had been blocked, also noting that “we believe that the open exchange of info and views benefits societies and helps governments better connect with their people.” At press time, the site said that while traffic had significantly dropped, there were Egyptians able to access the site via a proxy.
Both Twitter and Facebook directed media to take a look at Heredict.org, a project of Harvard University, that collects Internet activity and blocked sites in various parts of the world. According to the site, there’s been a sharp spike in accessible and inaccessible sites over the last few days in Egypt.
The attempt to hinder communication in the country is obviously not going unnoticed. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton told Reuters today, “We urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests nor block communications, including on social media sites.”