As recent political unrest grew in Egypt, government officials there sought to quell the uprising by shutting off the country’s access to the internet. This tactic was not only regarded as wildly unpopular and foolish, but also ineffective. For one thing, when the government pulled the web’s plug they also did some serious damage to Egypt’s economy, effectively shutting down business for key industries in the country. (Turns out it’s difficult to run a stock market or a bank or even an international carrier like Egypt Air without some internet.) Furthermore, the ruling regime’s hope was that by shutting down blogs, Twitter and Facebook, protesters wouldn’t be able to organize. However, and this is where the foolish part comes into play, the government sought to shut off access to the web AFTER the people had already gathered. What’s more, even with the hammer dropped on national internet providers, information continued to flow out of Cairo. So how did this happen?
The answer is that like bloggers everywhere, the Egyptian protesters got resourceful. One simple tactic included citizens simply calling their friends internationally and having them post information for them. This process is slightly more cumbersome than blogging or tweeting from a smart phone, but it worked. Internet superpower Google also got involved, rolling out a service earlier this week allowing users to send messages to Twitter via voice mail. According to a senior Google official, “We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there.” It appears one thing to learn from the terrible events of the last week in Egypt would be that ‘not only can you NOT shut down the internet, but nor should you.’
Regardless of what technologies can or can’t be used, the situation in Egypt is dire. Blogs nor Twitter are going to make things any easier for the people of Egypt this week. But quick and effective access to information will always ultimately prove beneficial. When protests broke out in Tehran in the summer of 2009, micro-blogging sites like Twitter proved instrumental in bringing these events to the world’s attention. And while change or justice may be slow in these places, at least the world has a better glimpse into the full story.