In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, deputy Russian prime minister Igor Sechin said Google was responsible for Egypt’s political upheaval – but he did not mean it as a compliment. “Look what they have done in Egypt, those highly-placed managers of Google, what manipulations of the energy of the people took place there,” he said.
Google exec Wael Ghonim was an important figure in the Egyptian revolution, primarily using the Internet and social media to spur activism and protest. He was the previously anonymous authority behind the Facebook page that originally called for demonstrations on January 25. It seems as though Sechin believes Ghonim was strategically meant to infiltrate Egypt’s political system by combining his and Google’s digital powers with citizen unrest.
Sechin did not comment further on the matter, but it seems a strange remark to make. There is mass criticism of prime minister Putin as well as most of the country’s political figures, and while television is censored, the Internet is (at least majorly) not. But his comment reflects what a host of struggling government leaders are concerned with: That the Internet and those who are strongly tied to its structure are extremely powerful, and aware of it. Chinese president Hu Jintao, for one, decided his country would enforce tightened Internet access. And in the wake of its own revolution, Libya has been wary of what sites like Facebook and Twitter are capable of.
While Russia’s own socio-political sphere isn’t comparable to that of the Middle East, it’s concerning that a high-level government figure is so critical of the Internet’s role in these current events.