“Regimes of terror cannot stand exposure.”
As violence continues across Syria, and foreign nations continue to explore the next step in dealing with Assad”s regime, it is important to remember that the people of Syria remain entrenched in a longstanding battle: the battle of information.
The Syrian government has been practicing web censorship and filtering for years, with the OpenNet Initiative citing pervasive blocking practices in 29, Reporters Without Borders including the regime on their Enemies of the Internet list since 2006, and the Committee to Protect Journalists placing Syria as the third worst country to be a blogger in 2009.
But 2011 proved to be an interesting year for speech and internet censorship in Syria. The government lifted filters on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook in February (which isn’t to say that they weren’t being closely monitored — rather, material was no longer being filtered). The following month, the Syrian uprising began to gain momentum in earnest and, as time wore on, the people of Syria grew bolder with their use of social networks and the web at large.
Then, in October of 2011, the U.S. web security organization Blue Coat Systems had to acknowledge that the Syrian government had been using its products to block terms like ‘Israel’ and ‘proxy’ after the hacktivist group Telecomix released some 54Gb of log data from the company’s web gateway appliances.
In response, Syrian activists contacted the Canadian information company Psiphon for ways to circumvent censorship and filtration practices. The company provided them with their Psiphon 3 software, and then watched as the Syrian online connections exploded to over 3,.
This could not have come at a better time, as the situation in Syria has since devolved into major violence, bringing the death toll estimates to well over 7,5. This number includes the deaths of four journalists in one week (which brought the total to eight journalists passing in four months). News organizations have been forced to pull correspondents to safety amid reports that Assad’s forces have been targeting journalists.
With few foreign correspondents remaining in Syria, the population has worked out a system involving citizen journalism, content curation, (often) translation, and dissemination of information on the events in Syria to the world at large. Social Media Chimps will be exploring this phenomenon in coming weeks, tracking how it works, profiling citizen journalists in Syria, and even providing tips that can help any of our readers looking to take the dive into citizen journalism.