[Air-L] ISOC Statement on Egypt’s Internet shutdown

Zeynep Tufekci socnetres at gmail.com
Tue Feb 1 13:51:46 PST 2011


This is indeed a very exciting time for internet scholars! I have
written a series of blog posts about these topics:

* Here's the summary of my seven theses on dictator's dilemma, i.e.
whether Internet is inherently threatening to authoritarian regimes:
(details at http://technosociology.org/?p=286)

1- The capacities of the Internet that are most threatening to
authoritarian regimes are not necessarily those pertaining to
spreading of censored information but rather its ability to support
the formation of a counter-public that is outside the control of the
state. ...

2- Dissent is not just about knowing what you think but about the
formation of a public. A public is not just about what you know.
Publics form through knowing that other people know what you know–and
also knowing that they know what you know. ...

3- Thus, social media can be the most threatening part of the Internet
to an authoritarian regime through its capacity to create a
public(ish) sphere that is integrated into everyday life of millions
of people and is outside the direct control of the state partly
because it is so widespread and partly because it is not solely
focused on politics. ...

4- The capacity to selectively filter the Internet is inversely
proportional to the scale and strength of the dissent. ...

5- Thus, the effect of selective filtering is not to keep out
information out of the hands of a determined public, but to allow the
majority of ordinary people to continue to be able to operate without
confronting information that might create cognitive dissonance between
their existing support for the regime and the fact that they, along
with many others, also have issues. ...

6- Social media is not going to create dissent where there is none....

7- Finally, during times of strong upheaval, as in Egypt, dictator’s
dilemma roars.

* My thoughts on how to assess the role social media plays in social
upheavals such as the ones in Tunisia and Egypt are here:

My key argument  is below:
"And I think this is more and more what we will see; people will be
using social media tools as an integral part of politics during those
times that politics takes to the frontstage like uprisings and
elections. Evgeny Morozov’s argument is that these tools are not the
best suited for promoting democracy, especially in authoritarian
regimes, because they also strengthen the surveillance, propaganda and
censorship. As I argued in many places, however, they also strengthen
capacity for political action through multiple means:

1- Social media lower barriers to collective action by providing
channels of organization that are intermeshed with mundane social
interaction and thus are harder to censor.

2- Social media can help create a public(ish) sphere in authoritarian
regimes, thereby lowering the problem of society-level prisoner’s
dilemma in which everyone knows that many people are unhappy but the
extent to which this is the case remains hidden as official media is
completely censored.

3- Social media helps strengthen communities as it is the antidote to
isolating technologies (like suburbs and like televison) and community
strength is key to political action.

4- Social media seems to have been key allowing the expatriate and
exiled community to mobilize and act as key links between rest of the
Arab sphere as well as Francophone parts of Europe and ultimately the
rest of the world

5- Social media can be a key tool for disseminating information during
a crisis. As we saw in the case of Iran, Burma, Moldova, Tunisia and
others, the world had a strong sense of what was happening not because
there were many reporters on the ground covering the events but
because thousands of citizens armed with basic cell phones could
record and transmit in real-time the situation on the ground. Yes,
such reports are inevitably chaotic, and yes, the ability to
disseminate information is not a sufficient cause for success, but it
is surely a necessary one."

* Finally, I recently reviewed Morozov's book for the Atlantic:


On Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 3:24 PM, Marianne van den Boomen
<M.V.T.vandenBoomen at uu.nl> wrote:
> On 31-1-11 16:01, Richard Forno wrote:
>> IMHO social media is playing a supporting role in all of this.  Is it
>> helpful?  Sure - but hardly essential.
> Mm, I would say that we have no theoretical or empirical instruments to
> assess whether a factor is 'essential' for the emergence of social change or
> uprisings that pop up in mainstream media as 'sudden' (and thus urge for
> easy answers: oh, it must be caused by SM). There is probably a myriad of
> factors that co-constitute a tipping point, and the person who is able to
> figure out which one is essential would no doubt soon be a millionaire, in
> the field of marketting or espionage).
> One of the first tweets I saw about Tunesia (not yet Egypt)  said something
> like 'hey, a revolution without tribute to Twitter or Facebook? Amazing!'
> Well, it did not take long...
>  To wit:  the Egyptian gov cut
>> off many modes of communication helpful for social media
>> applications, but did it adversely impact the protests?  Nope.   What
>> does that tell us?
> It does tell us a few things. Firstly, that it is considered disturbing or
> dangerous by the Egyptian powers that be. Of course, that does not prove
> that SM are essential. It may indicate that those powers are technological
> determinists but more probable is that they desperately try to regain
> control of any factor they may contribute to the revolt. And any
> communication medium - from words of mouth to printed press to television to
> radio to SM - obviously is such a factor, regardless whether one takes an
> optimist or pessimist stance.
> And may be it does tell us something else. Maybe a strategy of Internet
> shutdown reveals that the regime is not quit sure it will survive, while a
> strategy of non-shutting down but using social media to identify and
> prosecute people (as happened in Iran) indicates that the regime is sure of
> its enduring power. May be the SM strategies by repressive regimes are a
> baromoter of the strength of the regimes, rather than that the use of SM is
> a barometer of the strength of a people's revolt.
> kind regards
> Marianne van den Boomen
> Media and Culture Studies | University Utrecht
> Office: Kromme Nieuwegracht 20 (room T2.13A)
> Mail: Muntstraat 2a | 3512 EV UTRECHT
> Phone: +31 (0)30 253 9607
> M.V.T.vandenBoomen at uu.nl | www.hum.uu.nl
> www.newmediastudies.nl | www.vandenboomen.org
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Zeynep Tufekci, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

zeynep at umbc.edu or @techsoc

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