Google executive Wael Ghonim is still making the rounds, telling the world how he used a Facebook account to aid the Egyption uprising. And before he’s through, we will similar events unfold in Libya.
As tensions in the region increase and social media continues to play a significant role in the escalation, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has cautioned his citizens to hinder their Facebook use. Activist groups have been using the social network as well as Twitter to call for reform and support the efforts of Egypt’s own digital revolutionaries.
While he’s a ruthless dictator, Gaddafi is also a larger political presence than many of his Middle Eastern colleagues. He’s internationally well-known and one of a handful of Middle Eastern rules with significant ties globally. After a simple hint of political reform hit Facebook earlier this week, rallies supporting Gaddafi began. But if his reputation is as solid as the Libyan government would have us believe, it seems preemptive for him to issue a warning to those using Facebook.
Has Facebook become so powerful that a dictator is threatened by what it’s capable of? If not, then they should be. Activists who were using Facebook to inspire revolution or call for Gaddafi’s resignation have already been arrested and Libyan authorities are attempting to downplay the demonstrations. One government figure who requested anonymity told CNN on February 16, “There is nothing serious here. These are just young people fighting each other.”
According to Twitter, there are plenty of serious things going on. The site is ablaze with tweets reporting that Libya’s “Day of Rage” has resulted in anarchy. “#Qaddafi is at war with #Libya as we speak, helicopters, troops, thugs, security & foreign mercenaries all against unarmed protestors #Feb17,” writes ShababLibya. There are also multiple reports of injured and murdered protestors at the hands of Libyan security forces. Some reports are saying the death toll has risen to 19. While the Middle East and northern Africa are rife with protests in the wake of Egypt’s revolution, public dissent is a rarity in Libya. So where did it come from?
Al Jazeera explains that anonymous activists have been using Facebook and Twitter to organize today’s protests. One particular group demanding a “Day of Anger” reached nearly 10,000 members by Wednesday.
While Libyan citizens are following in Egypt’s steps, so too is its government. “Social media sites were reportedly blocked for several hours” last night. According to reports from Bloomberg and CNN, the government is using SMS to threaten its own citizens. A message reading, “From Libya’s youths to anyone who dares to cross any of the four red lines come and face us in any street on the group of our below country,” was send out cell phones earlier today. Some sources report that texting and Internet connection have been intermittently unavailable.
Libya could easily find itself in the Internet blackout that Egypt previously experienced, but something tells us its citizens are heading into a more difficult battle. It’s a significantly more powerful country with deeper pockets. Technology may have inspired and led this Libyan uprising, but it’s apparently also being used to quell it. The government not only has to ability to send mass warnings to the pockets of its citizens, but it can just as easily isolate them and everything happening in their streets from the outside world.