I hate internet triumphalism. The new communications technology of the last two decades is clearly changing society. Those changes are probably for the better. But the recent political upheaval has led to triumphalism of the worst sort, with all sorts of blather about Twitter revolutions and the like. It really drives me crazy, as if people have suddenly forgotten that spontaneous mass political mobilizations happened all the time back in the day. If the events in the links are too obscure, well, they are other, more famous ones. In short, there is no reason to believe that social networking or cell phones played any sort of irreplaceable role in the current unrest besetting Egypt and Yemen.
Moreover, the internet actually requires real-world infrastructure. Which governments can shut down. Through the expedient of making a phone call. The Egyptian government appears to have made just such a call. From the link:
We have examined the takedown event more closely, looking at the sequence in which Egyptian service providers removed themselves from the Internet. The following plot shows the number of available networks for each of the significant providers, between 22:00 and 23:00 UTC last night (midnight to 1am Cairo time). Our new observation is that this was not an instantaneous event on the front end; each service provider approached the task of shutting down its part of the Egyptian Internet separately.
Telecom Egypt (AS8452), the national incumbent, starts at 22:12:43.
Raya joins in a minute later, at 22:13:26.
Link Egypt (AS24863) begins 4 minutes later, at 22:17:10.
Etisalat Misr (AS32992) goes two minutes later, at 22:19:02
Internet Egypt (AS5536) goes six minutes later, at 22:25:10.
First impressions: this sequencing looks like people getting phone calls, one at a time, telling them to take themselves off the air. Not an automated system that takes all providers down at once; instead, the incumbent leads and other providers follow meekly one by one until Egypt is silenced.
The Egyptian government may fall. Or it may not. But it won’t be because of the Internet.