Is Syria Double-Crossing Citizens by Allowing Facebook and YouTube?

A five-year ban on social networking is over, but it might not be a triumph for freedom

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Syria hasĀ  ended a five-year ban on Facebook and YouTube, a move that's either a pre-concession to unhappy citizens eyeing protests in Egypt or a new convenient tool for spying on its people. The State Department cheered the news, but warned Syrians to "understand the risks" of provocative blogging and tweeting, The New York Times' Jennifer Preston reports.

One activist worried the Syrian government would use social networking sites to indentify and squash protesters. In fact, Syrians might have been better off under the old system, as The Guardian's Ian Black explains. Now, they can't enter "proxy" in search engines, and webpages with "proxy" in the URL won't load. "Syrians, in short, have lost internet anonymity," Black writes. They can't secretly look at anti-regimes sites without exposing their identities--extremely dangerous, as Syria hasn't lifted its censorship rules.

Syria may have looked to Sudan for inspiration. Wired's Spencer Ackerman notes that Sudanese President Omar al Bashir is trying to "beat [protesters] that their own game" by pushing for more rural electrification. That way, youngsters can "combat opposition" through social networking.

So far, Facebook hasn't seen an uptick in traffic from Syria--though YouTube has. Protest sites aren't nearly as safe as trampoline injury videos.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.