(CNN) — For all that the revolution in Egypt tells us about the power of networked media to promote bottom-up change, it even more starkly reveals the limits of our internet tools and the ease with which those holding power can take them away.
Yes, services such as Twitter and Facebook give activists the means to organize as never before. But the more dependent on them we become, the more subservient we are to the corporations and governments that control them.
Some of us might like to believe that the genie is out of the bottle and that we all have access to an unstoppable decentralized network. In reality, the internet is entirely controlled by central authorities.
Old media, such as terrestrial radio and television, were as distributed as the thousands of stations and antennae from which broadcast signals emanated, but all internet traffic must pass through government and corporate-owned choke points.
That’s why President Hosni Mubarak’s regime had so little trouble shutting down his citizens’ networks when he wanted to. One phone call to each of the four internet service providers in his country was all it took. And while we might like to believe that couldn’t happen in the United States, we should remember that all it took was a call from Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, to Amazon for the corporation to shut down WikiLeaks’ website recently.
Meanwhile, UK’s Vodaphone complied with Mubarak’s orders first to turn off cell phone use in Egypt, and later to flood cell phone users with incendiary pro-government messages. More virtual ink was spilled in the United States about Vodaphone-partner Verizon’s version of the iPhone than on Vodaphone’s utter complicity in the violence fomented by the commands it promoted through its networks. Although Vodaphone continues to apologize publicly for its ongoing policy of serving the goon squads of a dictatorial regime, it has also continued to follow that regime’s orders. Read more