These days, official groups and allied militia, frequently attack dissidents. It has now happened in Egypt. The most important Facebook page for the protests is being flooded with abusive comments and criticism.
In September, we wrote about the creation and activity of the Egyptian government's Facebook cops. They were created because Egypt's young people have frequently used Facebook as an organizing and informational tool. The 6th of April Youth Movement grew on Facebook and the current uprising was organized in part by the We Are Khaled Said Facebook page.
Evgeny Morozov points out in his new book The Net Delusion (review upcoming) tyrannical regimes - well any regime actually - have come to utilize social media as a tool of oppression as much as the oppressed use it as a tool for liberty. Egypt is no exception to this rule. In fact, one wonders if the Egyptian government turned the Internet back on specifically to allow its online security forces to operate.As
The "Facebook cops" have targeted the We Are Khaled Said page - one of the best resources for information on the protests. It has both an Arabic and an English version, giving it tremendous reach inside and outside the country. Most of the trolling has happened on the Arabic version.
It is, I admit, surmise that this special security department is behind the flooding of the page with filth, violent comments and faux hand-wringing. But it seems pretty likely. No doubt the online version of the "militia" types that Tahrir Square has seen beating protesters and journalists are among the commenters.
Wired listed these as some of the comments, a lot of which come from accounts with virtually no personal information.
- "God forgive (the administrator, probably) he spread fitna [division] and wants to burn the country, God is my refuge. We are all against him. Send it to each other so we can rid ourselves of him and his poisons."
- "This motherfucking group wants to ruin the country."
- "You ruined Egypt you dogs and enemies of Egypt. All your lives you have felt inadequate when compared to us... Egypt is above you all and that is God's promise. Long live Pharaonic Egypt."
Facebook Should Stand with the Protesters and Against the Facebook Cops
Despite the fact that dissidents and concerned citizens in general in a host of countries, many in North Africa, have used Facebook as a way to register their hopes, fears, hurt and anger at their leaders, Facebook itself has remained unmoved. In another life, I suggested that Facebook has a responsibility to its users, those who put that "cool" billion dollars in their pockets, to stand with them.
By this I do not mean that Facebook, a private company, should take partisan political stances or that it should even take sides in a conflict like that which happened in Tunisia or is currently working itself out in Egypt. If I owned such a company I would do no such thing. But taking a stand on behalf of its users to say that they should be free to speak to each other, to speak their conscience, to speak their loves and sorrows, without winding up on the wrong end of a hose or a lead pipe or broken broom handle or even just a locked door is not a "political" stance, it is a human one, just as free speech itself is not a cultural or political right, but a human one.
Facebook has a tremendously loud voice. It could make a world of difference. Let Mr. Zuckerberg stand up and say, "We stand with our users. We insist that the marketplace of ideas be allowed to work with as little interference as the financial marketplace in which Facebook makes its money."
What would such a stance cost Facebook? Money? I think not. As intelligent as Mr. Zuckerberg is, he is young. When a cadre of severe attorneys who look like your mom and dad tell you to quiet down or you'll ruin everything, perhaps your knees bend from sheer sense-memory. But Mr. Zuckerberg is a grown-up now; a very wealthy, very influential grown up. Should he get up off his knees it could give a second wind to those who seek merely to speak without paying the ultimate price.