Digital Tahrir Square: An Analysis of Human Rights and the Internet Examined through the Lens of the Egyptian Arab Spring

By Cattle, Amy E. | Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Digital Tahrir Square: An Analysis of Human Rights and the Internet Examined through the Lens of the Egyptian Arab Spring


Cattle, Amy E., Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law


TABLE OF CONTENTS   I. INTRODUCTION  II. COMMUNICATION AND AFFILIATION RIGHTS IMPLICATED BY        THE USE OF THE INTERNET AND NEW MEDIA        A. Freedom of Expression        B. Freedom of the Press        C. Freedom of Association and the Right of Peaceful Assembly III. INSIDERS AND OUTSIDERS: EQUALITY IMPACTS OF THE        PROLIFERATION OF THE INTERNET        A. Social Divisions: Internet User Demographics        B. Equalizing Forces and Discriminatory Consequences        C. Case Study: Women's Rights and HarassMap IV. CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY IN THE AGE OF NEW MEDIA        A. Sources of Corporate Responsibility        B. Responding to a Government Demand        C. The Role of the International Community  V. CONCLUSION     Before [January] 28th he really criticized us and wrote on his    status: 'Are you guys joking? A revolution through Facebook? What    the hell, there is no hope. ' And then the moment they shut down    the communications this person turned 180 degrees and said 'OK,    this is too much, I am going to take to the streets.' It was a    changing point for him. (1) 

I. INTRODUCTION

At approximately 12:30 a.m. local time on Friday, January 28, 2011, the Egyptian government severed the nation's Internet and mobile networks in an unprecedented attempt to silence the voice of its citizens. The crackdown was the first of its kind in size and scope, (2) and was a reaction against the Egyptian public's widespread and enthusiastic embrace of social media (3) and digital technologies to share information, mobilize support, and organize on-the-ground movements in opposition to the government. Although the Internet blackout did not ultimately succeed in quelling the demonstrators' momentum, the desperation underpinning then-President Hosni Mubarak's drastic act revealed the critical role that social media played in fortifying the Egyptian Arab Spring movement. (4)

The Egyptian protests began in earnest on January 25, 2011, when tens of thousands of people filled the streets to demand the end of President Mubarak's regime. Inspired by the overthrow of the authoritarian government in Tunisia a month earlier, Egyptians mobilized around "a largely secular, nonviolent, youth-led democracy movement that brought Egypt's liberal and Islamist opposition groups together for the first time under its banner." (5) The protests gained momentum as a result of Mubarak's electronic communication blackout, as the loss of connectivity further alienated the generation of "Internet youth" and served as a tipping point for many previously unaffiliated citizens who began to sympathize with the movement. (6) Ultimately, the Egyptian citizens proved to be a formidable opponent. Mubarak stepped down on February 11, 2011, after eighteen days of protest. (7)

While many scholars and commentators reject dubbing the 2011 uprisings a "Facebook Revolution," (8) there is no doubt that new media helped facilitate the organization, mobilization, and publicity of the civilian movement. Yet the human rights questions raised by the use of online tools and governmental interference with Internet and mobile network connectivity remain underexplored.

This Note seeks to show the ways in which instances of Internet and social media usage are indeed protected as fundamental human rights. Using the Egyptian Arab Spring as a case study, this Note will address three areas of inquiry concerning human rights. (9) First, it will explore the application of human rights protecting communication and affiliation-- including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of association--to Internet usage. Next, it will consider various impacts of the Internet and social media on equality rights, addressing issues such as discrimination, equal access, and women's rights. Finally, taking into account the pivotal role of private companies which provide Internet and social media services, this Note will look at the human rights obligations of non-state actors with respect to information and communications technology, and interpret what is understood to constitute corporate social responsibility under the reign of the Internet. …

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