Internet companies and global politics

Google, Twitter and Facebook have again played significant roles in enabling protesters in the Middle East during the last few weeks. Google and Twitter have even increased their active support for the uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere. Voice of America analyzed this development in the article “Internet Companies Increasingly Caught Up in Political Events,” for which I was interviewed by correspondent William Ide.

The following is an excerpt from Ide’s article:

Marcus Messner, who teaches journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University, says Internet companies are playing an increasingly bigger role in world affairs. “I think you see a more active role, but of course it depends, and it varies by company.  Facebook so far has not taken an active stance, but Google and Twitter, in these protests (in Egypt) have taken a more active stance,” he said.

Messner notes that in 2009, when protests erupted in Iran, Twitter postponed maintenance on its computer network so there would be no interruption in service for protesters using Twitter.  More recently, when authorities in Egypt shut down the Internet, employees from Google, Twitter and SayNow, a voice technology company Google owns, found a way to help protesters get around that obstacle.

With Facebook boasting half a billion members, Twitter growing at rates of 100 to 200 percent per year and the wide presence on the web of Google and You Tube, Messner says the role of Internet companies cannot be denied.

“They are major players.  When we talk about major media corporations we sometimes forget how big these companies have gotten.  What has to be seen in the future is how much of an active political stand do these companies take themselves,” he said.

You can read the entire article here. An article exploring the more passive role of Facebook was also published in the New York Times.

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