Syrian authorities restored Internet access in the country on Saturday after two-thirds of the networks were blacked out, in an attempt to quell violent street protests for democracy.
According to Renesys, a company that monitors Internet connectivity, Syria’s 3G data networks and ISPs dropped off the grid early Friday morning, as violence escalated amid reports of at least 50 protestors killed.
The blackout failed to completely shut off the country, since protestors managed to upload videos of the chaos using satellite phones while the Internet was offline. Many of those clips depicting violent clashes have made their way to YouTube’s Citizentube channel.
While 40 of the 59 networks from the global routing table were severed, the Syrian government network prefixes of the Internet, operated by the state-owned Syrian Telecom Establishment, remained reachable.
This weekend’s events are reminiscent of the government shutdown of the Internet in Egypt’s Arab Spring protests in late January, where heavy-handed government interference backfired, adding fuel to the fire rather than calming the situation.
Egypt, sensing the threat mobile and social media technologies poised, closed down the Internet to its 23 million users in an unprecedented black-out, but like in Syria, people found work-around solutions. In Egypt, the blackout lasted longer than a weekend and Google came to the protesters’ aid with a service that turned voice messages into tweets.
Both illustrate how mobile and smartphone media is playing a big role in these human rights campaigns against oppressive regimes.
Whether it’s cell phone pictures in Bahrain exposing police violence, or videos in Tunisia documenting early protests that would catch the attention of Al Jazeera and help frame meaningful discussions, the very nature of mobile devices make them invaluable in these types of campaigns.
In February, the U.S. government promised to invest $30 million on technology and projects to enable democratic groups around the world to organize efforts against government oppression and Internet censorship.