In an interesting case of digital censorship, the Iraqi government has been attempting to block anyone in the country from using websites such as Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, as social media tools like these have often been a driving force of insurgents aiming to disrupt the current political regime. However, they came up against a difficult quandary: without physical ground, it’s often difficult to control cyberspace.
After the Ministry of Communication released censorship orders, it became clear that not everyone was being blocked equally. While companies that monitor Internet traffic did report access issues and declines in Baghdad and in close proximity to it, many parts of the country that lay beyond the range of the capital had less trouble reaching this sites, if indeed they had any trouble whatsoever. As the Washington Post points out, many regions have become accustomed to relying on alternative sources for online access, including fiber-optic lines and satellite links from providers in the nearby countries of Jordan, Iran and Turkey.
“It kind of echoes the larger themes in Iraq, of how little the Iraqi government controls in that country,” Doug Madory, an analyst that works with an Internet performance monitoring company, muses. In Kurdish regions, which operate semi autonomously, there was no measured difficulty reaching the social media websites. According to Akamai, an internet networking company, internet traffic in Iraq was running at about 33% of normal levels this past Friday. Iraq is trying to limit the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda related extremist group that has already taken control of multiple cities.
As hard as it is to block access to social media websites, it’s not surprising that the Iraqi government, and other countries as well, often seeks to limit online access. Social media’s role in Egypt’s Arab Spring uprising was well documented, and Syria interrupted Internet access multiple times during its civil war. While social media might have begun simply as a tool for college students to stay in touch with each other, it quickly morphed into a potential tool for revolutionaries to wield.
Facebook spoke up about the block, saying that, “We are disturbed by reports of access issues in Iraq and are investigating. Limiting access to Internet services — essential for communication and commerce for millions of people — is a matter of concern for the global community.”