Another dictator figures out Facebook

In early February, I blogged on the somewhat surprising news that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was encouraging his supporters to join Facebook to counteract anti-government demonstrators who were using the site to organize. Sudanese officials also revealed that Bashir’s ruling party had been closely monitoring Facebook to gather information on the opposition. Now, Shehnilla ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images

In early February, I blogged on the somewhat surprising news that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was encouraging his supporters to join Facebook to counteract anti-government demonstrators who were using the site to organize. Sudanese officials also revealed that Bashir's ruling party had been closely monitoring Facebook to gather information on the opposition.

Now, Shehnilla Mohamed of the Committee to Protect Journalists writes that Facebook organizing has become too dangerous for activists in Zimbabwe as well:

Despite the restrictions, Zimbabweans are reverting to satellite television and social media for information amid fears that the secret police has been infiltrating social media networks. Today, for instance, foreign-based Zimbabwean news websites are reporting the country's first "Facebook arrest," although officially unconfirmed, according to international media, the reports describe the arrest of a resident of Bulawayo-based Facebook user named Vikas Mavhudzi for allegedly posting a comment on the page of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai about Egypt. Earlier this week, some alleged Zimbabwean activists apparently attempted to use Facebook to organize what they referred to as the Zimbabwe Million Citizen March. However, the march did not take place as people were skeptical of the authenticity of the call.

In early February, I blogged on the somewhat surprising news that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was encouraging his supporters to join Facebook to counteract anti-government demonstrators who were using the site to organize. Sudanese officials also revealed that Bashir’s ruling party had been closely monitoring Facebook to gather information on the opposition.

Now, Shehnilla Mohamed of the Committee to Protect Journalists writes that Facebook organizing has become too dangerous for activists in Zimbabwe as well:

Despite the restrictions, Zimbabweans are reverting to satellite television and social media for information amid fears that the secret police has been infiltrating social media networks. Today, for instance, foreign-based Zimbabwean news websites are reporting the country’s first "Facebook arrest," although officially unconfirmed, according to international media, the reports describe the arrest of a resident of Bulawayo-based Facebook user named Vikas Mavhudzi for allegedly posting a comment on the page of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai about Egypt. Earlier this week, some alleged Zimbabwean activists apparently attempted to use Facebook to organize what they referred to as the Zimbabwe Million Citizen March. However, the march did not take place as people were skeptical of the authenticity of the call.

This was probably inevitable, since the same things that make Facebook an effective organizing tool — its simplicity, openness, and popularity — make it extremely easy for regimes to monitor and disrupt. As autocratic governments adapt, the days of the Facebook revolutions may be numbered.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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