There have been a number of news stories that have suggested that the Internet played a role in the recent political movement in Tunisia that ousted the government. In an interview with Wired, the director of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) gives more information about what happened:
During its 15-year existence, the ATI had a reputation for censoring the internet and hacking into people’s personal e-mail accounts. All Tunisian ISPs and e-mail flowed through its offices before being released on the internet, and anything that the Ben Ali dictatorship didn’t like didn’t see the light of day…
The revolution began Dec. 17 in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, when 26-year-old fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the humiliating tactics of local officials. The suicide jolted Tunisians. They began to protest in the streets — and clash with police.
Around 100 people died throughout the country. The media, controlled by Ben Ali’s advisers, reported only that criminals were looting.
But videos of the protests, riot police and their victims appeared on Facebook, and bloggers began reporting the daily events with first-hand accounts, photographs and videos. This information helped drive the uprising, and the government responded by allegedly hijacking Tunisian Facebook passwords.
At the same time, hackers began to attack the Tunisian government’s control over the internet. They bombed the ATI’s DNS and website, and tried to bomb the e-mail centipede gateway. The National Computer Security Agency — which fights hacking, phishing, viruses and fraud — took on the activists who tried to overload government websites with distributed denial-of-service attacks.
“When the hackers did DDOS they did a good job, and Anonymous did a good job,” Saadaoui says, smiling. “But not on everything. They weren’t able to take down the DNS, they weren’t able to take down the main servers or the network, but they were able to DDOS websites. They were able to bomb Ben Ali’s website.”
And there is some interesting talk about the future of the Internet in Tunisia: completely open or will the government still have some control in order to block sites that go against conservative Islamic teachings?
So it sounds like the Internet was used in two ways by those in the revolutionary movement:
1. The spreading of information through sites like Facebook. This would help keep people coordinated as well as alert the outside world to what was happening.
2. A number of hackers took the opportunity to attack the government’s Internet infrastructure. They had some success though they couldn’t bring the whole system down.
Is this the way future social movements will happen: through quick information spreading (Facebook, Twitter, whatever comes next) plus hackers trying to disrupt government activity? It would be interesting to know more about these hackers: have they attacked the government before, were they just waiting for an opportunity like this, were they coordinating their actions with those of protesters on the street?