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
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid