A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tunisia Now Apparently Hacking Websites

Tunisian bloggers trying to report on the continuing demonstrations in that country are experiencing hacking of websites and Facebook accounts, suggesting the government is seeking to silence its online critics.

Here's a Reporters without Borders/Reporters sans Frontieres report, referencing blocking of European media reporting inside Tunisia, selective blocking of Facebook, etc.

And blogger Lina Ben Mehenni reports her E-mail and Facebook accounts have been hacked and she's otherwise being blocked.

None of this is all that new, and it's hardly unique to Tunisia, but it's yet another case of a government trying to close the barn door after the horses are out. With Flickr and YouTube already blocked, now they're blocking photo uploads to Facebook. From the Reporters without Borders report:
According to the Assabilonline website, more than 100 Facebook pages about the unrest of the past few weeks are blocked in Tunisia. They include the Arabic-language Facebook group “Mr. President, Tunisians are setting themselves on fire”, which already has more than 12,000 members.

Here are two other examples of blocked Facebook pages: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Les-T... http://www.facebook.com/pages/lnthr...

Facebook users cannot access the ‘https’ version of the site, which allows them to log on with a password securely. The Nawaat news website described this as part of a “Tunisian police campaign to hack into Facebook accounts,” a way for the authorities to obtain activists’ access codes and thereby infiltrate the citizen journalist networks that have sprung up around the events in Sidi Bouzid. The site is offering advice on how to activate https requests: http://nawaat.org/portail/2011/01/03/tunisie-campagne-de-piratage-des-comptes-facebook-par-la-police-tunisienne/

Many activists and bloggers have reported that their email and Facebook accounts have in hacked. In a post yesterday entitled “You can’t Stop us from Writing” (http://atunisiangirl.blogspot.com/2011/01/you-cant-stop-us-from-writing.html), Lina Ben Mhenni voiced her outrage at discovering she had been the victim of one of these cyber-attacks and named Sofiene Chourabi and Azyz Amami as fellow victims.

Several sources told Reporters Without Borders that for the past few days it has been impossible to upload photos and videos to Facebook from Tunisia. This is a new development in a country where the best-known video and photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube have been blocked for months. This is clear attempt to restrict the circulation of images about the protests and the methods used to disperse them.

The demonstrations appear to be continuing unabated, though it is increasingly hard to find reliable reporting due to the choking off of uploaded videos. One result, a predictable one, is that rumors spread wildly when genuine information is blocked. That can easily backfire on a regime, especially one like Tunisia's that has cultivated a moderate, pro-Western image for so long.

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