Egyptian authorities turned off nearly all digital communication channels early Friday morning, preventing access to the Internet. Yet, despite the government’s best efforts to silence its critics, a small group of Web users are getting through.
On Friday, at approximately 12:20am local time in Cairo, almost all digital communications in and out of Egypt came to a sudden stop. In what appears to be a coordinated effort to contain the surging anti-government movement, Egyptian officials have apparently closed the country’s Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom operators to block most voice calls and access to the Internet.
Across the Internet, people are reacting with outrage over the unprecedented move to turn off the Web and block phone calls. Just minutes after Egypt’s data lines went dark, the popular short messaging service Twitter erupted with thousands of users who posted updates and their collective anger over the government’s decision to silence the Web.
There are reports on Twitter that some Egyptian Internet users are circumventing the government’s shut-down by accessing the Internet either by satellite, a foreign SIM card, or in some cases, via Noor [link], the only ISP the government seemingly permitted to remain operational. In those limited instances, Egyptian Twitter users are relying on what are known as ‘proxy’ servers that reside outside of the country to post their updates on Twitter and other social networking sites.
This is the same technique employed during the crackdown in Tunisia, the 2009 Iranian “Green Revolution” and regularly in China to circumvent the “Great Firewall.” Instead of typing a standard Web address such as www.twitter.com, the user instead enters the numbers 18.104.22.168 in the browser’s address bar. This numerical Web address accesses the external proxy server located outside of the country. By using these proxy servers, the user is then able to bypass most of the security controls imposed by the government.
While the vast majority of Egyptian Internet users are now unable to access popular social networking services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, millions of other Internet users from around the world are using these sites to relay information from within Egypt about the situation on the ground. Of all the major social networking sites, Twitter is by far the most active.
To follow the latest information on Egypt using Twitter, there are several key search terms, known as ‘hashtags,’ that are currently being used. In particular, Twitter users are using four different ‘hashtags’ in the discussion about Egypt.
It is very important to note that although Twitter is flowing with seemingly constant updates on events in Egypt and elsewhere, the quality of that information can vary widely. Since much of the content posted on Twitter is not vetted, rumors and innuendo are quite common.