Social Media Goes Dark In Egypt Amidst Protests

Unfortunately the news coming out of Egypt is all too familiar to countries like the U.S. that have watched other totalitarian governments censor social media, particularly during country-wide protests. However, during the 2009 Iranian Election protests, citizens were still able to access their hand-held devices and connect to global social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. This is not the case in Egypt where mobile phone texting, Blackberry messaging and the Internet were silenced by the government.

Hosni MubarakHosni MubarakNot since the bread riots of 1977 has protests reached such a fevered pitch in Egypt. Dissent against 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule continues to search for outlets to tell the world their story, but with the Web going dark, even emails go unanswered.

According to a report, activists inside and outside of the country are pointing blame at the regime for locking up access to Twitter and Facebook. Egyptian service provider Seabone, based in Italy reported that the Internet in the volatile nation ceased abruptly after midnight local time on Thursday, January 27.

This graph developed by the Arbor Networks, a firm that provides network security and  protection from denial of service attacks charts the sharp decline of Internet traffic to and from Egypt throughout the day.

 Arbor Networks Chart of Egypt Internet Activity on January 27-28, 2011Arbor Networks Chart of Egypt Internet Activity on January 27-28, 2011
There was much chatter via social networks outside of Egypt that the January 28th rallies would assemble the largest protest groups in Cairo to date. Millions gathered at mosques throughout the city, following violence that escalated the day before along the Suez Canal. It was there, protestors torched a fire station and looted weapons that they used against the police. In a Bloomberg report, the Interior Ministry indicated there were more than 90 police officers injured during the melee.

President Obama commented on the government's heavy hand in cutting off social media and the Internet. In an interview broadcast live on YouTube, the U.S. president said the anti-government protests filling the streets show the frustrations of Egypt's citizens. "It is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances," Obama said.

The Bloomberg report also noted that "blocking the Web in counties that exert strong control over their Internet providers is not difficult… because companies that own fiber optic cables and other (telecom) technologies are often under strict licenses from the government."

While the Great Firewall of China is another example of a government's control of open communication, it isn't until dissent rises to the level currently experienced in Egypt that you realize how isolated a country can become over-night. By Egypt going dark, it has also darkened any empathy it might have have received from over sovereign states. When human rights are violated in such a fashion, it's easy to see how the rest of the world rises quickly to find ways to support the oppressed.

Egyptian Protest CartoonEgyptian Protest Cartoon