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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid