In Egypt, Information getting out despite information blackout

 This post is part of our special coverage of Egypt Protests 2011.

Egyptian authorities yesterday shut down the Internet and ordered closures of cell phone networks, in anticipation of today’s protests. The shutdown has significantly curtailed the information flow through those channels. The four main internet providers are not working at present. Only the stock market continues to have internet. Blackberry services are working sporadically, and most cell phones are down.

Internet activists are also reminding Egyptians that both internet and cell phone services can be used to track users, and that security precautions are vital. EFF activist Eva Galperin, in a Global Voices Advocacy guest post, says:

it is absolutely critical that Egyptian protesters take precautions when communicating online. To reiterate, social networking tools have given activists a powerful voice, which can be heard well beyond Egypt, but activists should also remember that the Egyptian government could use these same tools to identify and retaliate against them.

Despite that, some writers and observers continue to use digital media to get their message out. Activists have found ways around the shutdown.

People around the world are focusing on radio, TV and print media. They have also been using landlines to call colleagues, friends, an relatives outside of Egypt, who are then sending messages in their name, or using landlines to connect to outside internet services.

Nora Shalaby, for example says:

I’m tweeting on behalf of my sister from the states! 2 people seen pouring gasoline on cars in downtown cairo today w/police nearby..#jan25

Jan25 Voices, @Jan25voices has set up a new feed specifically to breech the internet block. They began sending messages January 28, and quickly garnered more than 700 followers. Their feed says:

We are using phones and other means to speak with Egyptians behind the blocked internet, tweeting their words in real time. contact: jan25voices(at)gmail.com

They are attempting to name the source in each twitter. A typical post:

Live Phonecall: Unconfirmed story from someone in Suez that a buldozer was used on a police station. #jan25 #jan28 #Egypt

Many others are feeding off of the images from Al Jazeera English, which is streaming live, although the images have been scrambled in Egypt, and are not available. CNN has been streaming Egyptian state TV. A screenshot from Al Jazeera:

Protesters take a prayer break. Al Jazeera English screenshot, January 28, 2010

Al Jazeera reports on the air that there is an attempted media blackout, and that their reporters, as well as other international and local journalists have received warnings, and may be shut down.

International broadcasters and journalists with other access points also continue to get online, and are using their outside bureaux.

In some ways, the Egyptian use of internet and cell phones as a tool for reporting is exactly opposite to the Iranian protests in June 2009. In this case, mass media have continued to function, at least for audiences outside of Egypt, but networked media have been severely curtailed. Finally, despite the shutdown, the networked nature of Egypt’s society has connected people to the point that a shutdown is primarily reactive. Street protests will now have their own momentum.

Originally published on Global Voices: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/01/28/egypt-information-getting-out-despite-information-blackout/