News / Science & Technology

Internet Companies Increasingly Caught Up in Political Events

Internet Companies Increasingly Caught Up in Political Events
Internet Companies Increasingly Caught Up in Political Events

Internet search giant Google and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are increasingly finding themselves caught in the middle of global political developments, and playing a role in those events.  In some cases, as with the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, they have been a part of the push to overthrow autocratic leaders.  As Google has shown in China, the major Internet companies also have challenged government policies that appear to restrict free speech and personal privacy.

When Google executive Wael Ghonim re-emerged in Egypt earlier this month after being held by security forces for 12 days, he was welcomed like a hero by anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square.

Ghonim leads Google’s marketing efforts in the Middle East and North Africa.  A Facebook page he launched before the mass protests began played a key role in drawing demonstrators into the streets - helping to launch the mass public uprising that ultimately ended President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Marcus Messner, who teaches journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University, says Internet companies are playing an increasingly bigger role in world affairs.

"I think you see a more active role, but of course it depends, and it varies by company.  Facebook so far has not taken an active stance, but Google and Twitter, in these protests [in Egypt] have taken a more active stance,” he said.

Messner notes that in 2009, when protests erupted in Iran, Twitter postponed maintenance on its computer network so there would be no interruption in service for protesters using Twitter.  More recently, when authorities in Egypt shut down the Internet, employees from Google, Twitter and SayNow, a voice technology company Google owns, found a way to help protesters get around that obstacle.

With Facebook boasting half a billion members, Twitter growing at rates of 100 to 200 percent per year and the wide presence on the web of Google and You Tube, Messner says the role of Internet companies cannot be denied.  

“They are major players.  When we talk about major media corporations we sometimes forget how big these companies have gotten.  What has to be seen in the future is how much of an active political stand do these companies take themselves,” he said.

Jeffrey Carr, a cyber security columnist for Forbes magazine, says he believes the freedom Google gives its employees enabled them to play a role in Egypt.

“Google as a company is very supportive of their employees.  They give them, I think, 20 percent of their time every week to work on independent projects, and I suspect that that’s what this was, not necessarily a formal corporate decision,” he said.

Carr says what Google's employees did in Egypt was their own work and they deserve a lot of credit for that.  “I think that’s where the humanitarian efforts have to stem from.  Not from the company, but from the employees,” Carr said.

In the end, analysts point out that Google and other Internet firms are still businesses - corporations with an obligation to protect their stockholders' interests.

Jillian York, who is with Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says many Internet companies did not build themselves up with the idea that they would be used for activism.

"Each company at some point has to decide whether or not they are going to take a strong stand on these issues.  We’ve sort of seen Google doing that, both with pulling out of China last year and, more recently, they’ve held an Internet freedom conference.  Google seems fairly comfortable in that role.  Facebook perhaps less so.  And then Twitter, I would say, is almost somewhere in the middle," York said.

One thing analysts say is significant is that Google and other high-tech companies have not dismissed employees such as Ghonim and others involved in developing Speak2Tweet - the system linking telephones to the Twitter network that allowed Egypt's protesters to circumvent the Internet shutdown.  Industry analysts say that is a strong statement about the companies' commitment to free-speech issues.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs