In the last few weeks, there's been a lot of debateÂ in the media about the effect the Internet has had on the recent uprisings in the Mideast. Some credit social media tools like Facebook and Twitter for fomenting the turmoil.Â Others say that the conditions already existed and social media had little to do with it. While you can argue it both ways, the fact that the Internet has helped get the word out isÂ undeniable.
For instance, in Tunisia, it was no secret that the former government of president Ben Ali was rife with corruption. When Wikileaks revealed cables from U.S. diplomats that documented this corrosive environment, it provided Tunisians with tangible proof, adding fuel to the fiery rebellion.
In Egypt, the recent uprising began when a young man, despondent over his hopeless condition,Â set himself on fire in front on parliament. A Facebook page, We are all Khaled Said, spread the word about his horrific personal protest. A few days later, people took to the streets. During the 18 days of protests that lead to the departure of President MubarakÂ from office, Facebook and Twitter informed Egyptians about street protests.
The government was so concerned about the Internet, that it shut it down for a number of days. International outrage and pressure eventually restored service.
Fear of the Internet has now spread to Algeria, where citizens,Â emboldened by events in Tunisia and Egypt, have taken to the streets demanding change. According to news reports the government has blocked Facebook and ordered an Internet shutdown.
Regardless of whether the Internet provoked the uprisings (certainly the underlying conditions were already there), clearly governments are afraid of it. China has censored the Net for years, but now repressive regimes are going further–taking their countries offline. But how long can a nation disconnect from the flow of information? Is it committing political and economic suicide? As discontent spreads across the Mideast and disenfranchised citizens take to the streets, we'll find out the consequences of these information revolutions.
As quoted in the New York Times, Shawki al-Qadi, an opposition lawmaker in Yemen said, â€œThe street is not afraid of governments anymore. It is the opposite. Governments and their security forces are afraid of the people now. The new generation, the generation of the Internet, is fearless. They want their full rights, and they want life, a dignified life.â€
“Power to the People” was a much used slogan during the 1960s, but today it's taking on a whole new meaning.