Last updated: January 28, 2011 - 9:25am
The revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen are driven by deep dissatisfaction with authoritarian regimes, but Internet technology has played a crucial role as a 21st-century weapon for democracy movements, experts say.
Inspired by the recent overthrow of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunisia, citizen activists on Thursday escalated their protests in Egypt and Yemen, denouncing their respective governments. And social media played the dual role of a virtual town square where protest leaders rally the masses and counter government disinformation. Services such as Twitter and Facebook are "playing an increasingly large role in almost any mass protest around the world," said John Palfrey, a law professor at Harvard University who studies limits on Internet expression. "We will see more of this." The demonstrations in Egypt, where the government completely shut down the Internet late Thursday, "were started primarily by the April 6 Movement, which was basically a Facebook campaign that started in 2008 and called for protests about workers' rights," said Lina Khatib, a Stanford University expert on Arab reform who was in Cairo on Thursday before leaving for Paris. During the latest unrest, Twitter became an instant information tool, she said: "People were spreading the news on Twitter. They would alert people where demonstrators were gathering."
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