John D Radcliff, Specializing in Interactive Technology & Education!

What the Libyan government could learn from the internet

        The internet cannot be controlled by laws or threats that are made by governments.  Take the quote from Code 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig, "The claim for cyberspace was not just that government would not regulate cyberspace – it was that government could not regulate cyberspace.  Cyberspace was, by nature, unavoidably free.  Governments could threaten, but behavior could not be controlled; laws could be passed, but they would have no real effect (Code 2.0, p. 3)."

        Ghadafi has made claims that he ‘will crush’ anyone who plots against him and if he catches anyone using Facebook, he will have them imprisoned.  He has gone so far as to shutdown the internet and cell phone communications in an attempt to stop the transmission of the revolution infection.  The threats can be made and yet even as Ghadafi shuts down the internet in Libya he still cannot control the code which is still broadcasting anti Ghadafi messages. 

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        Even with the attempt to shut off communications other companies like Google have provided speak to tweet and dial up numbers so that people can still communicate even though Ghadafi has cut off communications.  So can a government leader stop the spread of dissent on Facebook by making threats of locking up Libyan citizens for posting anti Ghadafi messages on Facebook?  Or can his futel attempts to shut off communications really have an effect on controlling the code?  The only way Ghadafi could make an impact on the net is if he would hire a group of hackers to create computer code or launch DOS attacks that could shutdown Libyan based Facebook and Twitter pages.  Even if he locks up Libyan citizens for using Facebook (whether true or not) what difference would this make in stopping the spread of the anti Ghadafi message through out the net? 

        The solution to this problem is right in front of him.  Instead of trying to shut off or destroy the flow of information coming in and out of Libya, he can embrace it.  He could learn more about what is going on in and outside of his country by monitoring communications.  For example, he could setup a team of people to look at the different posts online about his country and learn from what is being posted online.  Then he could use this information to manipulate the network to his advantage or to find the location of rebels or protests.  The more information that is broadcasted online the easier it is to monitor people's conversations or locations. 

        For example, people use Twitter or Facebook to broadcast where they are by using their cell phone.  I found the following tweet when searching for the keyword #Libya on Twitter:  @ShababLibya: I would continue to urge all media to head to Sallum in #Egypt, we can provide people in #Benghazi and all East #Libya #Feb17.  If we exam the tweet, we can see that @ShababLibya could be informing the media people in Egypt to head to the city of Sallum in Egypt to provide the people in Benghazi and all East Libya Freedom.  The #Feb17 keyword is a website for the Libyan Youth Movement which is promoting freedom, democracy and change.  So this tweet could be code for an organization of media sources to congregate move to the city of Sallum to provide freedom for the people in Libya.  Now if Ghadafi has not suppressed the internet and is paying attention to these forms of communication online then he could be learning alot about this particular tweet.  If he knew the code, maybe he could plan to watch the border of Egypt near Sallum to watch where these media sources (journalists) are moving to in order to capture them or to broadcast an anti revolution message in the network.  He could also try to shutdown the http://feb17.info/ website by using a team of hackers to launch a DOS attack on the site.  Since the Libyan government seems to not be interested in this, then it will continue to be foreign or code to them. 
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        So trying to control the revolution conversation is hard when the way this conversation is being spread is not clear.  This conversation has followed a non linear path and has the whole world watching due to the internet and broadcast media.  The question now is what happens next and what role will the code continue to have an effect on Libya.  Clearly it has helped spread the message of the revolution in Libya and has caused the Libyan government to shut off the internet including other forms of communication.  So can the code be controlled or is it just an uncontrollable force that governments will have to deal with?

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