Thursday, January 27, 2011

Social Networking Sites Banned in Egypt

Massive protests, some which have been arranged via social networking sites, are intensifying in Egypt; therefore, the country has reportedly decided to ban even more communication platforms including Facebook and BlackBerry Internet service.

Now neither of these bans has been officially confirmed, but according to a buzz on Twitter, both of the services are currently accessible.

A Facebook spokesperson told PCMag, "We are aware of reports of disruption to service and have seen a drop in traffic from Egypt this morning.”

According to a report from TechCrunch, it is currently unclear whether or not all BlackBerry Internet services in Egypt have been blocked because a blog said that some people were still able to use some apps.

However, TechCruch and Twitter have both been able to confirm that Twitter has been blocked for several days in the country.

"We can confirm that Twitter was blocked in Egypt around 8am PT today," Twitter confirmed on the @twitterglobalpr feed Tuesday evening. "It's impacting both and applications. We believe that the open exchange of info and views benefits societies and helps governments better connect with their people."

The news that Twitter is down is now being widely reported, but just a few days ago a spokesperson for Twitter had been very leery about confirming the ban. Instead of confirming it herself, she turned to a site called Herdict Report that monitors Internet access around the world that claimed that the website had indeed been banned in Egypt.

"We prefer users in Egypt (or elsewhere) to speak for how Twitter is being used (or not) instead of us," read another @twitterglobalpr Tweet.

As I mentioned above, protests are raging throughout Egypt. These demonstrations were organized via Facebook and Twitter and brought thousands of protestors into the streets of Cairo. The people were protesting issues like economic policies, government corruption, and were demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down after a thirty year reign.

On Tuesday, January 25th more than 90,000 people had signed up with a group on Facebook called “We Are All Khaled Said.” This name was given in honor of an activist that was reportedly beaten by the police.

At first, Facebook remained unaffected, while Twitter was banned on several levels including the physical site, the mobile site, and the third-party site. However, there has been some very limited access to Twitter via Web proxies. According to The Herdict Report though, Facebook has now been reported inaccessible 86 times in Egypt. The reports started coming in on Wednesday, January 26.

"From what we know about Egypt, filtering is done at the ISP level, which explains the sporadic reports of inaccessibility we've received," Laura Miyakawa, Herdict's project manager, said in a blog post. "Coupled with reports from Egyptians on Twitter, we're able to say that some degree of filtering has been happening, but we need more reports to make a strong determination."

It is believed that Egypt is following suit with other countries who staged protests via social networking sites. Earlier this month, social networking played a huge role in the uprising in Tunisia concerning the country's President Zine el-Albidine Ben Ali. Also, last year Twitter was involved in an uprising that broke out in Iran.

Social networking is a fantastic way to reach out to your friends and family, but as we see in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran, it can also be used for some social demonstration and even violence. I could see why Egypt has banned these sites, but I can also see why some would say that this is a violation of free speech. It’s a sticky situation and it is difficult to determine what to about it, but for now, the Egyptian government seems to think that banning social networking is the best immediate solution.

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