What once would take days or weeks for a message to be delivered can now be texted in a few seconds. In the age of social media, at the click of a button people can communicate to a mass audience of people right from their home or any location.
Social media played a significant role in the way people communicated during the January 2011 Egyptian anti-government protests. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were used to organize and spread the word about the protests.
In response, the Egyptian government shut down the Internet and cell phone service on January 27, 2011.
According to a NYDailyNews.com article, President Barack Obama urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak not to “interfere with access to the Internet, to cell phone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.”
Egyptians all over the world reacted to the government’s decision to shut down the Internet and cell phone service.
“I don’t like the fact that the government shut down the Internet,” said Stephanie Link, who was born in Canada from Egyptian parents. “I am glad that Mubarak was forced out of power [and] I am glad that the protests were successful despite the fact that the Internet was closed,” she added.
Some Eygptians felt the Internet shut down just fueled the protests even more.
“It showed the stupidity of a government who was trying to separate a whole country; they didn’t know that this would give us more courage and be more willing to go down [the] streets, even the people who didn’t initially, went down the street that day,” said Khaled Abdelaziz who was born and raised in Egypt.
If this happened in Egypt, could this happen in the United States?
Abdelaziz doesn’t think so.
“This couldn’t ever happen in any democratic country, we were ruled by a dictator which meant he was ruling from the perspective that he is the owner of the country not the leader of the country,” Abdelaziz said.
Contrary to Abdelaziz, Link does think something like this could happen in the U.S.
“Yes, [that could happen] if laws like SOPA and PIPA continue to be fought over in congress,” said Link. “The Internet should never be commercialized as it is one of the last places where freedom of speech is found,” she added.
According to an article in TechCrunch.com, the Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act of 2011 says, “neither the president, the Director of the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications, or any officer or employee of the United States Government shall have the authority to shut down the Internet.” The article goes on to say, “But it does give the Department of Homeland Security the power to issue decrees to privately owned companies in a cyber emergency.”
However, the president already has the power to shut down the Internet if there is a “state or threat of war” under the Communications Act of 1934, according to an article in Time.com.
As social media continues to develop as a means of communication, the governing laws surrounding the Internet will continue to shape what ‘freedom of speech’ means on the web.