Controlling War: Syria Sees Widespread Internet, Communications Shutdown

by Jordan Richardson on November 30, 2012

The power of the Internet and of telecommunications can’t be overstated. This is underlined with the latest stage of the Syrian conflict, as the government has shut down Internet access across the country and cut cell phone services in select areas.

The blackout was confirmed on Thursday by two US companies that monitor online connectivity around the world. The service shutdown is being called “unprecedented” in the 20-month-old uprising against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

So what’s the significance of pulling Internet service and cutting cell phones off?

In order to control the rebel uprising, it makes sense for the Syrian rulers to jam out their communications potential. Because the regime has been experiencing a surge of defeats over recent weeks, al-Assad’s cronies have reached into the technological realm to shut down the rebel lines of communication.

The shutdown effectively means that the region “goes dark.” Cell phones, the Internet and social media in particular have been the only windows many in the rest of the world have to the conflict, as al-Assad’s regime has gone to great lengths to lock out independent journalists and keep the lid on the message.

Telecommunications structures are vital in these sorts of situations, as state television can’t be trusted and the messages put out by the regime are in the same vein. The Internet has provided one of the only ways to glean some semblance of reality in terms of what’s going on.

This loss in technology has led to widespread fear in Syria, as many in the region have been down this road before. Internet shutdowns have also been integral when it came to controlling populations in other parts of the landscape, like when Moammar Gaddafi did it in Libya and Hosni Mubarak did it in Egypt. In both instances, the shutdowns were tailored exclusively to squash uprisings.

It is clear to see just how importance a functioning, affordable telecommunications structure is to the cause of freedom. Access is, of course, an important issue. Without these forms of communications, insecurity looms large and confusion reigns.

With Syria in Internet and cell phone blackout, all bets are off with respect to the future of the conflict. It’s going to be even harder to find the truth without adequate lines of communications, although it’s hard to say just how much the move will impact the rebels’ progress. They’ve been living with sparse service and unreliable telecommunications since the conflict began.

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