“Social Networks in Political Change”

A Panel with Jesse Driscoll, Assistant Professor of Political Science, International Relations and Pacific Studies, UC San Diego; and Anas, Syrian blogger, Richard Marshall,  hosted by Brett Horvath, Director, Leaders Network

BH: Need to get past CNN narrative that this is just about the arab spring, about teenagers with cellphones.

JD: Many journalists will say that this was predictable, due to underlying economic topics, etc. No one knew a few years ago that this was going to happen. Easy to connect the dots afterwards, but no one knew this was going to happen. Arab spring was preceded by. States evolved as war machines — their ability to control violence within a certain territory. When camera’s arent watching, bad things happen. The first adopters of social media were students, but not long after that, government took up social media.

Anas: Difference between Syria and Egypt — no censorship in Egypt, not sophisticated process, in Syria government manipulated, monitored social networks. Unleashed spam bots on twitter to clog Syrian hashtags. Steer public opinion in the direction the regime wants. Arrest activists and force them to give up their facebook login information to mine their data.

BH: Track record of twitter in Iran shows role of IT players in being brokers of information in foreign markets.

RM: Libyan cell phone system owned by the government. Priority has been to maintain status quo. One Libyan national bribed officials to tap into the cell system and set up a private system for the opposition. The problem with this is that once you back a side in conflict, you’re stuck with them. You always want to back a winner, whether its in horseraces or politics.

BH: How does fear of government monitoring affect your communications?

Anas: The more people who know about crimes, the better and the easier to hold parties responsible. Switched facebook security certificate to try to spy on users. Government as much as possible is trying to spy on users.

RM: What inherent biases do you have?

Anas: I don’t have any political affiliations. I just want democracy to spread. My bias is for people being able to talk freely and in a comfortable manner. You notice it more when you leave and you don’t have to worry about people around you trying to spy on you.

RM: I’m all in favor of public debate, but has bias with HB Gary. Looked at RM’s email account. Very dangerous when people start using social media to manipulate reality.

BH: What about airforce false FB accounts?

RM: If we really wanted to be sneaky about it, you wouldn’t know it.

JD: We’re fighting a networked enemy that’s very sophisticated and very good at hiding all over the world. But we’re also fighting a conspiracy theory. When you’re confronted with an enemy that lies, you have to avoid lying back. People believe crazy things, and they really believe them.

BH: Important role of IT companies in creating a public space for discussion.

Anas: Companies have a responsibility not to sell their software to authoritarian governments. FB not allowing

RM: Before Google was attacked, they were engaging with the Chinese. Then they got fed up. If you’re going to preach freedom of information than you need to practice it. I applaud Google for the stand that they’re all taking. And that’s an unpaid endorsement.

ISPs should take on a greater role in keeping internet clean. Keeping malware out of homes. Going to need to do a deeper look into the dpeths of the internet. But you have to be careful that ISPs filter out the bad, but not take political sides.

JD: When there was a massacre in Uzbekistan, the Kyrgistani govt turned off the internet to avoid mass movement across borders. Gave him a sense that they’re actually a low-capacity government.

Anas: My concern is that government meddling and online monitoring becomes an industry.