Syria Goes Offline on 'Children's Freedom Friday'

Around two-thirds of all Syrian networks went offline early in the morning

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In what Syrian activists are calling the largest demonstrations yet against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, protesters took to the streets across the country today in the name of the children--including 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb--who have been killed during the uprising. In the central city of Hama alone, according to AFP, security forces fired on a crowd of more than 50,000 people, killing 34. And it all happened, it seems, without Internet.

Starting at 6:35 am in Syria, around two-thirds of all Syrian networks became unreachable from the global Internet, according to Renesys, a U.S. company that monitors Internet connectivity (the Renesys graph above shows how the routes to 40  networks were withdrawn over the course of half an hour this morning). The company explains that Syria's Internet generally depends on one provider--SyriaTel, owned by Assade confidante Rami Makhlouf--and that SyriaTel's 3G mobile data networks, which activists can use to organize protests and upload videos and photos of the unrest, are down while some government sites are still up. Syrians tell AFP that Internet lines were cut in the capital, Damascus, and the coastal city of Latakia ("there is now one report of internet working in an internet cafe in Abu Romani, Damascus 20 minutes ago," the pseudonymous Syrian activist Malath Aumran, who is based in Beirut, wrote on Twitter). Those watching the blackout are also pointing to this Google Transparency Report, which tracks traffic to Google services around the world. Look at this Friday, June 3, compared with last Friday, May 27. Google, like Renesys, suggests that Internet access in Syria nosedived early in the morning.

Over at The Irish Times, Danny O'Brien notes that the Syrian regime actually removed restrictions on sites such as YouTube and Facebook when the Arab Spring began picking up steam in February. Why? O'Brien explains that, this way, the Syrian security agents were able to monitor and track down activists and even set up a "Syrian Electronic Army" to pick fights with online dissidents and engage in "opportunistic" hacking. Anas Qtiesh at Global Voices thinks the regime's decision today to cut Internet access will prove as misguided as ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to do the same in January: "Shutting off internet sends more people to the streets," she writes.

Reflecting on the fact that videos are still surfacing from Syria today on activist sites despite the blackout, Aumran, the pseudonymous Syrian activist, tweeted, "in 2011 there is no dictator in earth can stop information from going out." In fact, on a day with limited Internet, Aumran and his fellow activists even managed to do a bit of web innovation. They put together this Google map tracking confirmed demonstrations across Syria.
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