When the Egyptian protests began on January 25th, it didn’t take long for the Mubarak government to realize the importance of social media in organizing their opponents. That’s why they wasted no time in shutting down Twitter and Facebook in the country, and later, the entirety of the Internet.
However, Egyptians were as relentless as they were resourceful when it came to breaking this Internet blackout. One tool at their disposal was HootSuite, a Twitter application that somehow escaped the scrutiny of government officials and remained a primary method of organizing during the blackout.
HootSuite was not initially blocked, and starting Jan 24th, experienced a spike in user sign-ups and activity from Egypt as people quickly recognized this way to by-pass Egyptian government blocks.
Based on observation, people used HootSuite to broadcast messages to organize protests, share curfew info, outreach to outside media, and monitor the status of family/friends. Shortly thereafter, the “entire” Internet was blocked in Egypt, excluding the country’s stock exchange, while 1 million protesters took to the streets. HootSuite traffic from the area dropped to a trickle though some messages were getting out via improvised access points including landlines, satellite and ad hoc ISPs.
The Egyptian government blocked all access to Twitter.com, preventing users from posting messages to Twitter web or through official Twitter clients on their mobile phones. However hootsuite.com was initially left open. When a user posts a message to Twitter through HootSuite, the message first travels to hootsuite.com servers outside of Egypt – and thus outside the blockade – before travelling to twitter.com. In this way users are able to circumvent the blockade.
Good for you, HootSuite, for providing a tool for Egyptians to be heard — but don’t let it go to your heads. Just remember, this is Egypt’s revolution, not the revolution of a software company sitting comfortably in Vancouver. Until you’ve been shot at by your own country’s soldiers for daring to demand human rights, your part in this revolution is a very limited one. Just remember to keep this in perspective.
However, for some information that demonstrates just how many Egyptians used HootSuite during these protests, take a look at this.