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Maldives to Egypt: Can a Revolution be Censored?

This post is part of our special coverage of Egypt Protests 2011.

When the Egyptian government decided to go for a total Internet shutdown of the country to curb the growing anti-government protests, people in the Maldives were reminded of 13 August 2004 when the government of Maldives blocked Internet in the country following a massive pro-democracy demonstration. The government of Maldives cracked down on protesters, shutdown the Internet completely across the country, imposed a state of emergency, and hoped news of events in the Maldives would not reach the rest of the world.

As global academia and the media debate the extent of the influence of Twitter and other social media tools in shaping pro-democracy revolutions across the world, nervous governments in repressive countries would make more efforts to keep citizens silent through censorship. The revolution in Tunisia has inspired democracy activists in the Middle East, and now more repressive regimes are already trying to block the spread of dissent through Internet. There are unconfirmed tweets about Internet being blocked in Syria as protests rock Egypt.

Jawazsafar tweets:

wait, what? Syria block internet services? please denounce this this #Jan25 #Syria

A popular tweet which has being retweeted for the past couple of days is about the Egyptian government’s approach to censorship.

Anon_VV
tweets:

Everything ██is█████ ████ ████fine ███ █ ████ love. ████ █████ the ███ Egypt ███ ████ government ██ #jan25 #Egypt #censorship

In the Maldives, the government started censoring critical websites as early as 1998, just two years after Internet was introduced to the country in 1996. The democracy activists had to play a game of cat and mouse with the government censors for a decade until a democracy was established after a peaceful election in 2008. The activists always found some loophole in the censorship net cast by the government. Sometimes using proxies and changing the port through which the http requests were made was the solution. At times it was just the innovative use of adding an additional dot after the .com, .net or whatever domain suffix being used. If and when the government applied filters at DNS level, IP addresses of blocked websites were used to evade the censors.

In the case of Egypt, social media users were quick to spot such loopholes. The government blocked Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools at DNS level. People were quick to point out the websites could be accessed through the IP addresses.

The Egyptian government’s decision to go for a complete Internet blackout made things complicated. Egypt is a country that relies on Internet for its economy and when the Internet was shutdown it raised a very important question. How can social media fuel a revolution when the Internet is blocked? How can you tweet a revolution when there is a complete Internet blackout?

In the case of Egypt the past hours showed that the government was unable to prevent Internet and social media from spreading news about the street protests. People in other countries communicated with protesters in Egypt through mobile phones and landlines and updated the news through Twitter and blogs.

Nico Diaz
informs:

Send SMS reports to +1 949 209 7559 and they will retweet for you. Please spread to those in #Egypt #internet

In the wake of the Internet blackout in Egypt, the importance of low-tech methods and old technology has got increased attention. People are discussing whether ham radio could be a viable method of communication when faced with an Internet shutdown.

Security4all advises:

So people don't throw away those old modems just yet… Or get a ham radio! ;-)

Telecomix tweets:

#hamradio #morsecode from #Egypt: “[today] marks a great day [for] egypt”; ~00:30 UTC 7078.70 kHz, full msg here: ur1.ca/31l54 #hamr #cw

Several blog posts discuss how to deal with a complete Internet blackout and advise to go for old technology such as dial-up. Twitter is buzzing with tweets about dial-up accounts set up in other countries for Egyptians to access.

Habib Haddad
tweets:

Telecomix now offering dial-up internet to egyptians +46850009990. user/pass: telecomix/telecomix #Egypt #Jan25 @telecomix


Nico Diaz
adds:

VPN Server http://texnomic.com/url/2L is now stable and open for FREE to ALL #egypt #internet

Jacob Appelbaum tweets:

Egypt can use this number for dial up: +33172890150 (login ‘toto’ password ‘toto’) – thanks to a French ISP (FDN) #egypt #jan25

Martin Bogomolni reports:

#BBS usage in Egypt is exploding. Downloads of good old 1980's BBS software are jumping up… who ever said the BBS was dead?

Egypt/Main Page is a wiki with links to various resources that can be helpful in evading the censorship.

The general feeling among netizens is that a government can stop the whole Internet but it can’t stop a revolution when all the ingredients are in place.

Mark tweets:

Having no Internet did not stop the French Revolution, or the Russian Revolution or any other revolution for that matter

This post is part of our special coverage of Egypt Protests 2011.

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