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Egypt: Web Videos Spur Facebook Revolt February 12, 2011

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video, YouTube.
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Amid euphoric scenes on the streets of Egypt, it is clear that the Web is a potent catalyst of political change. As befits a revolution galvanized by social networking, the feeling on the streets is one of individual and collective empowerment as citizen videos show the historic moment, when Mubarak’s resignation as President of Egypt was announced at the hour of evening prayer.

This video shared by YouTube’s Citizen Tube through Twitter shows people at prayer in Tahrir Square holding off the celebration until it is finished before breaking into cheers.

Even though Mubarak has stepped down, the story of Egypt is not over, and neither is the work of cyber-activists. With the military now running the country, it is uncertain what level of digital freedom or online surveillance lies ahead.

Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26-year old Egyptian woman who began online political activism in 2008, is now credited for launching the video call that sparked the revolution. Mahfouz recorded the video below on January 18th, uploaded it to YouTube, and shared it on her Facebook. Within days, the video went viral:

Young people forwarded it on mobile phones – a communications tool that some 65 million Egyptians use. Soon after, the government blocked all mobile phone networks. This was not the first time a young activist used the Internet to mobilize, but it departed from the convenient anonymity of online activism.

Mahfouz is one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, a group of young, Internet-savvy activists. Time will judge whether it is accurate to credit this one video and young woman with catalyzing the Egypt revolt. At the very least, her video advocacy captures the zeigeist of an important moment in history:

If Asmaa Mahfouz’s Web video captures the spirit of the political times, Egypt’s anti-Mubarak street movement found a hero to rally around in Wael Ghonim. The 30-year old Google marketing executive created an anonymous Facebook page, “We Are All Khaled Said” named in honor of a blogger beaten to death by police last summer.

The page, launched over six months ago, became a rallying point for demonstrations. What started as a campaign against police brutality grew into an online hub for young Egyptians to share their frustrations over the abuses of the Mubarak regime. Ghonim was detained for 10 days after starting the Facebook page.

The online organizing through Facebook, e-mail list serves and Google Docs that sprung out of it catalyzed cyber activists to collaborate on a kind of movement wiki that is being continually re-edited and improved upon by an expanding Web of contributors.

This is the revolution of the youth of the internet, which became the revolution of the youth of Egypt, then the revolution of Egypt itself.

Wael Ghonim

The Facebook page that Ghonim ran sounded the call for the initial protest on Jan. 25. As the page’s following approached 400,000 people, and word of the event spread, it hosted a constant stream of news, photos, and videos, downloadable fliers, and emotional entreaties for all Egyptians to join the push.

The active early participants in the “We Are All Khaled Said” community were young activists and dissident bloggers, many of whom knew one another and had been organizing against Mubarak’s policies for years. Emboldened by their cyber-purpose, activists took their collective confidence to the streets, giving each other the sense that they just might bend history on the ground.

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Web Users Counter Egypt Net Blackout January 30, 2011

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video.
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In an action unprecedented in Web history, the Egyptian government on 27 Jan ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet after blocking access to Facebook and Twitter earlier in the week. Some countries routinely block access to specific Websites, but this is the first time a country has voluntarily cut its own Web connection.

Internet intelligence authority Renesys confirmed the blackout soon after the outages occurred. The Egyptian authorities’ efforts to limit communications within the country has triggered a wave of activism from a group of free speech activists on the Web called Telecomix.

Organizing using chat rooms, wikis, and collaborative writing tools, this largely anonymous group is working to inform Egyptians about their communications options while receiving incoming messages from them. Egypt has been identified as a “top priority” for Telecomix on one of its network sites, We Re-Build. It has a wiki set up as a one-stop shop with the latest chat rooms and resources.

Telecomix has worked on free speech efforts in Tunisia, Iran, China and other countries which have tried to censor or block parts of the Web. Chat administrator Christopher Kullenberg from Sweden, likens Telecomix to “an ever growing bunch of friends that do things together.”

Graph visualizing sudden halt of Web traffic in Egypt, based on data from 80 global carriers:

Timeline of recent events for Telecomix:

When Web and mobile services were cut off in Egypt on 27 Jan, though landlines were operational, members immediately got to work to send information to Egyptian fax numbers. Searching for a common string of characters found in Egyptian fax machines numbers on Google, they discovered a large amount of numbers.

At first, they sent out Wikileaks cables to these numbers, but then they determined the Egyptians didn’t need additional motivation. Instead, they were interested in information on how to communicate with each other and the outside world. The activists thus began providing instructions for using dial-up modems and amateur radios, known as Ham radios, which the Egyptian people could use to communicate.

The group says it’s also worked on receiving and decoding amateur radio messages, sent on frequencies recommended by the group of activists. While these groups have only been able to receive a small amount of messages of a short length with an unknown source, the Egyptian people’s use of amateur radio to transmit messages represents an interesting utilization of old-fashioned technology to circumvent government restrictions.

Source: Huffington Post

Besides Telecomix, other Web groups have assisted, including “Anonymous,” which has helped by sending out large amounts of faxes into Egypt. “Anonymous” was also involved in denial of service operations against organizations who took actions against Wikileaks.

Egyptian ISP Noor stayed online largely because it connects the country’s Stock Exchange and many Western companies to the outside world. Many people and businesses who are signed up to Noor have removed the passwords from their wi-fi routers so others can piggy-back on their connection.

Some users could get at websites such as Google, Twitter and Facebook by using the numeric addresses for the sites rather than the English language name. A crowd-sourced document, 20 Ways to Circumvent the Egyptians Governments’ Internet Block has compiled the best ways for Egyptians to keep communicating.

Related reads
Egypt Internet Blackout Teaches Important Lesson
WikiLeaks: A Case Study in Web Survivability
Support for the Disconnected of Egypt

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