Facebook helps foment revolution in Egypt and Tunisia

Here and Now

Photo of a protest in Egypt (Image by Flickr user Muhammad http://www.flickr.com/photos/70225554@N00/ )

This story was originally covered by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

When Tunisian protestors took to the street and toppled the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, social media tools like Facebook and Twitter helped organize the protests. When the government got word, officials began to slyly attack the Facebook users.

Users began complaining to Facebook that their accounts had been hacked, according to Jillian York of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It turned out that government hackers were allegedly directing users to a different page, snatching their passwords and often deleting all the content in the protesters' accounts.

"In response," York told Here and Now, "Facebook decided that they should implement https, a more secure manner of accessing Facebook, for Tunisian users." The move provided a layer of encryption making it more difficult for people to hack into Facebook accounts.

"It's really wonderful," according to York. "I'm happy that Facebook has really stepped up in this case and protected users."

A similar problem began to emerge in Egypt's recent protests, but on a larger scale. One fourth of Egypt's 80 million citizens have access to the internet. "Egypt has one of the largest blogospheres in the Arab world," York says. "They've got a huge blogging community."

Protesters taking advantage of Facebook's ability to connect. York says she saw one Facebook event page for a protest that had 94,000 people signed up to attend.

In response Facebook has decided to open up the https option to all users, in Egypt and the rest of the world.

Some have called the protests in Tunisia and Egypt "Twitter revolutions" or "Facebook revolutions" but that's too simplistic, according to York. She quotes Zeynep Tufekci at the blog Technosociology.org saying:

People acted in a world where they had more means of expressing themselves to each other and the world, being more assured that their plight would not be buried by the deep pit of censorship.

"The Internet has simply afforded people a way to make sure that their voices will not be silenced," according to York, and I think that's a huge role that it's played in both these cases."

The Egyptian government recently took the drastic step of shutting down internet access throughout the country in an attempt to quell the protests. It's still to early to tell how that will affect the country and the protests.

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