Commentary

The Day The Internet Died in Egypt

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Political unrest in Cairo has been attributed to bringing down the Internet in Egypt, amid ongoing protests against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Reports suggest organizers fed the conflict through posts on Facebook, keeping fires fueled with messages on social sites such as Twitter.

Stopping the flow of information from within the country meant Egyptian government officials had to shut down the Internet. They did just that about a half-hour past midnight Friday morning, blaming the chaos on social media and search engines such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Bing and Yahoo.

Twitter confirmed last week that its service was being blocked in Egypt. Not only Twitter, but Facebook, too. Andrew Noyes, public policy communications manager at Facebook, told MediaPost Sunday: "We saw a drop in Egyptian traffic on Thursday and are now seeing only minimal traffic from Egypt."

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Yahoo and Google also reported problems last week.

Initially, information on Google experienced a level of filtering. On Friday the search engine in Egypt went dark. A Google tool offering information into changes in Internet status clearly shows the changes in Egypt that occurred last week.

The graphs show historic traffic patterns for countries, regions and services. Graphs are updated as data gets collected, normalized, and scaled in units of 0 to 100. The tool visualizes disruptions in the free flow of information, whether it's a government blocking information or a cable being cut.

The Internet has been almost entirely blocked in Egypt since last Friday, which means that access to Google's services from within that country has been interrupted. Last week, Google changed the traffic tool to shorten the lag time on reporting, according to Scott Rubin, head of public policy and communications, EMEA at Google. "Previously, it was about 32 hours behind actual traffic," he says. "Now, it's closer to 30 minutes, although the data newer than 32 hours has not been finalized and should be interpreted with that in mind."

By late Friday, 93% of Egyptian networks were not reachable. The government had ordered Internet service providers to shut down operations. Renesys, a global Internet intelligence company, provides a more technical view to the events taking place in Egypt. In this blog post, a graph plots the "round-trip delays packets experienced between New York and Egypt in the days leading up to the blackout. The blue background shows the number of successful traces that reached their destinations inside the country."

Remove the country's turmoil and solely look at the influence the Internet has on society and the Renesys blog post demonstrates how vulnerable the online advertising and marketing industry can become. online marketers and advertisers can become.

Al Jazeera offers a live stream in English about events unfolding in Egypt. And although the news agency's Cairo office was shut down by Egyptian government officials on Sunday, the coverage continues.

According to some reports, Egyptians have found ways to get around the shutdown. They are reaching out to the world with a mix of "old-fashioned dial-up modems and satellite Internet." Interestingly, they have begun to login to international modem pools outside the government's control.

Sharing information, the seed that seemed to increase the speed at which unrest unfolds, has more of a dark side than first thought. Location-based services on Twitter, Google and other social sites allow government agencies to physically locate individuals that officials believe broke the law. Governments have begun to increasingly rely on location-based services to find and hang protestors, most recently in Iran.

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