With Twitter and Facebook Blocked in Egypt, Protesters Turn to Proxies
From Flickr user Al Jazeera English
Note: Scroll to the bottom to see the latest updates.
Massive anti-government demonstrations took place all across Egypt yesterday, with many on the ground turning to social networking tools to share instructions and news about police actions, their personal safety, and location information. While Facebook pages helped rally people for yesterday’s protests, Twitter became one of the primary lines used by many Egyptians on the ground to share live updates about what was happening. This Trendistic chart shows the frequency of the hashtags #jan25, #cairo, and #egypt being used worldwide over the past 24 hours:
By mid-day January 25, however, the microblogging service became inaccessible, leaving many without a way to communicate with the outside world about events on the ground.
Tech-savvy protesters took advantage of proxies and circumvention software to bypass the block. Popular blogger Zeinobia tweeted:
The twitter website is blocked in Egypt , we are using alternatives like applications and proxies software#Jan25
The We Are All Khaled Said English Facebook page encouraged Egyptians to use proxy services as well, posting:
While Mideast Youth editor Ahmed Zidan reminded people to use the Alkasir tool:
A simple Twitter search of “#jan25 and proxy” reveals how many users have been sharing resources to bypass the block. While third-party Twitter applications like HootSuite were initially available after the initial block, they also became inaccessible.
Twitter officially confirmed the block later in the day, tweeting:
We can confirm that Twitter was blocked in Egypt around 8am PT today. It is impacting both Twitter.com & applications. (1/2)
Re Egypt block: We believe that the open exchange of info & views benefits societies & helps govts better connect w/ their people. (2/2)
Popular mobile service provider Vodafone Egypt tweeted that they did not block the service:
We didn't block twitter - it's a problem all over Egypt and we are waiting for a solution.
It’s unclear whether the service was cut off because of signal overload or government intervention.
Mark Belinsky, the co-director of Digital Democracy, told CNET: "Hard to say whether or not it's just getting overloaded though...(physically severing) Internet was done in Burma after a while but it usually leads to international uproar. What they generally do is slow down the signal to a crawl, as they did in Iran, which they can then say was infrastructure failure or any other made up excuse."
Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Egyptian security authorities carried out a pre-planned block of the service, but there has been no official confirmation. According to the latest news coming out of Egypt, Egyptian authorities have also begun blocking access to Facebook as well. The We Are All Khaled Said Facebook pages are asking its supporters to share their email addresses via a spreadsheet so they can continue to stay in touch.
Update (1/26): By mid-day January 26, Twitter remains blocked, but users inside Egypt report that the Facebook block has been lifted, although it may be temporary.
Update (1/26): As night falls in Egypt, Twitter corporate officially confirms that Twitter remains blocked inside the country.
Egypt continues to block Twitter & has greatly diminished traffic. However, some users are using apps/proxies to successfully tweet.
Egyptians have also been sharing news that cellular networks are down. Egyptian Association for Change Tweeted:
Despite not having access to social networking tools to share information about proxies and circumvention tools, Egyptians continue to spread the word about how to get past blocks. Channel 4 News correspondent Jonathan Rugman, reporting from Cairo, shares:
Bambuser, a service that provides live video streaming from mobile phones, confirmed that it has been blocked since January 25. They have a couple broadcasts on their blog that were captured by Egyptians participating in protests before the service was taken down.
Also, Global Voices reports that residents and shop owners around Tahrir Square in Cairo, one of the main gathering sites, have removed passwords to their wireless routers so protesters could access the internet.
Update (1/27): According to Cairo-based blogger Zeinobia, Twitter is no longer blocked and Facebook appears to be working fine. She does not mention that the internet is running more slowly than normal. People on the We Are All Khaled Said English Facebook page also confirm that both social networks are working on mobile providers Vodafone and TE Data. Egyptians and the international community continue to share resources about proxies as the state could block sites again at any time. As mentioned in the comments below and on Facebook/Twitter, the Egyptian government is only blocking by DNS. If you are in Egypt, for Twitter use: http://126.96.36.199/ and for Facebook use: http://188.8.131.52/ or use proxies.
Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against the blocking, telling reporters: "We urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications including on social media sites."
Joshua E. Keating at Foreign Policy has a great post up titled "Can Governments Really 'Block' Twitter?" explaining how the Egyptian government has blocked the Twitter.com domain name and the ways that savvy Egyptians are getting around it.
Update (12:50pm ET): Wondering what you can do from afar to help the Egyptian people get around censorship? Visit Access' page to find out how you can help. Options include donating your unused bandwidth and IP address with the Tor anti-censorship tool and contributing funds to help set up servers.
Latest Tweets coming in indicate that Twitter.com and Facebook.com are down again:
@jilliancyork Twitter & Facebook blocked over all ISPs, Google still working on some ISPs
Herdict has an update on the reports coming in about site accessibility and how to interpret reports.
In addition to condemning the government's crackdown on protesters, Amnesty International also addressed the blocking of Twitter and Bambuser, stating: "These blocks on communication show that the government is trying to stop the world from knowing what is happening in Egypt, and to cut off demonstrators from each other."
Update (4:30pm ET): The Guardian reports that leaflets are being distributed in Cairo with practical and tactical information for tomorrow's protests. According to the article, recipients are being asked to redistribute the leaflet, but to not post it to Twitter or Facebook, which is being closely monitored by state security.
This graphic from Dr. Craig Labovitz, Chief Scientist at software company Arbor Networks, shows the dramatic drop-off in traffic.
Vodafone released a statement confirming that they complied with the government's request to suspend service:
"All mobile operators in Egypt have been instructed to suspend services in selected areas. Under Egyptian legislation the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it. The Egyptian authorities will be clarifying the situation in due course."