Social Media is also a Tool of the Despots

“A dissident’s social networking and Twitter feed is a handy guide to his political views, his career, his personal habits and his network of like-thinking allies, friends and family.”

Before we all cheer the fact that Twitter and Facebook and other social networks are speeding up the long-overdue revolutions in places like Tunisia, Iran and Egypt, we should take into consideration the fact that the bad guys can log on too.

The New York Times has a story out today about the ways in which despots and dictators are unleashing their own information age weaponry against the revolutionaries and we’re not talking about digital snowballs being thrown…

But since that revolt collapsed, Iran has become a cautionary tale. The Iranian police eagerly followed the electronic trails left by activists, which assisted them in making thousands of arrests in the crackdown that followed. The government even crowd-sourced its hunt for enemies, posting on the Web the photos of unidentified demonstrators and inviting Iranians to identify them.

“The Iranian government has become much more adept at using the Internet to go after activists,” said Faraz Sanei, who tracks Iran at Human Rights Watch. The Revolutionary Guard, the powerful political and economic force that protects the ayatollahs’ regime, has created an online surveillance center and is believed to be behind a “cyberarmy” of hackers that it can unleash against opponents, he said.

Just as the freedoms offered in Europe and America have been exploited by terrorists when carrying out their operations, so too can the openness of the social web be perverted to the aims of repressive regimes.

The revolution may be Twitterized, but this technological advancement will ultimately be a two-way street.

Source:

Spotlight Again Fall on Web Tools and Change (NYT)

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