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Egyptian Government Goes After Facebook Activists

Facebook has great potential as a tool to mobilize social networks. However, as activists in Egypt have recently discovered, it also has potential pitfalls. Some of the most promising examples of use of social networking sites have included organization of offline protests in Colombia against the FARC, generation of international support for monk-led protests in Burma, and organization of student protests in Venezuela against a Constitutional referendum that would have extended Chavez’s ability to compete in elections indefinitely. The US Presidential campaigns have also recognized the potential of social networking sites, including the Ron Paul campaign, which used Facebook as their primary online platform for organization and mobilization of supporters.

However, authoritarian governments are increasingly taking notice and reacting to the use of social network sites for mobilization. The Washington Post reports on one digital activist’s attempts to use the Internet to mobilize protesters in Egypt. According to the Post, 74,000 members have joined a group created by Ahmed Maher and Israa Abdel Fattah since March. However, recent attempts to get protesters on the streets on Mubarak’s 80th birthday resulted in interest by only 15 of the 74,000 (in contrast to earlier successes). He has run into the same problem as other activists when trying to send mass emails to members since Facebook thinks they are spammers. There are also concerns about infiltration by the State into the social networking groups. In the end, the security services resorted to old fashioned intimidation when they detained, interrogated and beat Maher for his efforts–demanding passwords for access to the group when they aren’t even required. The best option for these activists may be to understand and be able to use a number of online tools, including cellphones and SMS, to stay a step ahead of the governments they are trying to peacefully protest against, and to always have backup communication systems in place.

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2 Responses to “Egyptian Government Goes After Facebook Activists”

  1. Jarod Clark - Denver Web Design Says:

    With the internet and social networks being relatively immature, it will be interesting to watch as governments in developing nations reject or adopt these applications. I would think that it would be advantageous for companies the size of facebook, especially given their MSFT backing, to be proactive in their engagement of new governments.

  2. idteam Says:

    Totally agree. They should also consider ways to make Facebook groups and other apps more user/group leader friendly.