Autocratic regimes fight Web-savvy opponents with their own tools

The Washington Post reports:

For weeks, Syrian democracy activists have used Facebook and Twitter to promote a wave of bold demonstrations. Now, the Syrian government and its supporters are striking back — not just with bullets, but with their own social-media offensive.

Mysterious intruders have scrawled pro-government messages on dissidents’ Facebook pages. Facebook pages have popped up offering cyber tools to attack the opposition. The Twitter #Syria hashtag — which had carried accounts of the protests — has been deluged with automated messages bearing scenes of nature and old sports scores.

“There is a war itself going on in cyberspace,” said Wissam Tarif, head of the Middle East human rights organization Insan, whose Web site has been attacked.

Syria offers just one example of the online backlash in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. Although social media sites have been lionized for their role in the Arab Spring protests, governments are increasingly turning the technology against the activists.

“In the same way that, a few years ago, it became commonplace to talk about Web 2.0, we’re now seeing Repression 2.0,” said Daniel B. Baer, a deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

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One thought on “Autocratic regimes fight Web-savvy opponents with their own tools

  1. Joseph Elias

    The internet is filled with images of the Syrian rebellion. The US and EU have ratcheted up its diplomatic pressure, perhaps laying the ground work for greater, and deadlier, involvement. As unpopular as it may be, one cannot help wonder if these rebels have been consumed with the message than with tangible results. The internet directors have demonstrated that they can turn out their faithful, but other than bloodshed they have not affected the government. Rumors of generals joining the opposition or divisions among the ruling class have not come to pass. The reports of “tens of thousands” seem to avoid the cities of Aleppo and Damascus. What has resulted is the economic injury done to the people, and not just the regime. Tourists are down, investments are down, professionals are leaving, etc. If the aim of the demonstrators is to open up the political and economic sectors of the country, then there must be meetings between the dissidents and Assad’s government. If reforms do not appear, then the marchers could return to the streets. But without some sort of dialogue, there will be continued violence, and if the US and EU intervene with force, there will be widespread death and destruction. If the purpose of these individuals is to effect change, then it is time to come to the table. If it is to gain notoriety on the internet, they have already succeeded.

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