For some reason these days my internet connection is so intermittent and usually I keep getting an error message; “The requested URL could not be retrieved”. I can’t get into facebook or use twitter as frequent as I used to before say three or four weeks. This is apparently due to the recent Egyptian revolution. I know everybody can certainly read about these revolutions in the state-approved and monitored media. I assume creating such irritations continuously to get in to facebook has to do with preventing discussion threads about what is really going on to leak out Ethiopia. Such incessant irritating connection to get in to facebook also slows online groups forming whose views would be contrary to the government’s wishes. Some of my readers might not get my sarcasm and irony but I hope you get my point unless you are one of my semi-literate visitors. This blog will most probably be read by slanted eyes as well. Therefore, I would like to make it clear that I believe Ethiopia is not currently ready for Egyptian type of revolution for countless reasons.
I don’t much care for facebook, but it might be surprising for Ethiopians residing abroad to note that most Ethiopians don’t see it quite that way. Which ought to make the only telecom service provider in the country to think twice about trying to slow the growth of facebook population in Ethiopia, because slowing facebook users’ in Ethiopian counts for the reputation of the country as a muffler of dissent opinions. .
A friend of mine, who himself is a facebook addict, claims “we like facebook so much that some people even claim that in Ethiopia these days all online activities are for these sort of entertainment. So people might not take the act to block facebook lightly. He adds “My reasons for visiting facebook are of course perfectly innocent. I just chat with friends and find old ones. Facebook has been great for me. It is really wonderful. I have met up with old mates from my high school days and even connected again with some of my best school cliques.
Then there’s the question of defining “perfectly innocent use of facebook”. This is notoriously difficult. That said, it’s safe to assume that you can expect people in power to rule that anything that are related with pages which has got something to do with dating does is all right for general release, while some political pages such as http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=131603333574873 should be blocked at source. Then you have to ask in this era of proxy server if that is possible at all. And for sure, there are free proxy servers that allow one to surf anonymously in Ethiopia. But they are forever being found out and blocked by you can guess who.
Next, it is worth remembering that plenty of Ethiopian social media networks are already available although you have to go the trouble of connecting each other with these social media networks. Which should make any sane person makes wonder whether blocking access to select facebook pages is the way to go? The point that is often made is that the serious seekers of some facebook pages and other social networks can find what they want online, regardless of whether a any kind of technical difficulties are created or if I may use the word “blocked” – which is why we got what we want online every day. But there is a more important argument: whether banning political websites is really proportionate. As many people have pointed many times, governments may not like social media networks such as facebook, but banning them or creating some havoc to access them quickly becomes an important freedom of speech issue.
Filtering out facebook pages would certainly provide legitimacy to the suggestion that says Ethiopian government follows Chinese style route of blocking every dissident opinions, and then you have to ask what else should be banned next? The whole social media networks including facebook or twitter of course, and perhaps any other website that is involved in leaking/releasing confidential information of a government.