#DictatorFail: Twitter Helps Tunisia Toss Regime
Last Friday, Jan. 14, after a month of demonstrations, riots, WikiLeaks revelations, Anonymous hacker attacks, thousands of Facebook and Twitter postings and 24-hour Al Jazeera news coverage, Tunisian President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali finally fled the North African country.
Why did Ben Ali fall? Because he couldn't control the flow of information in his small, educated and relatively well-off nation.
Even though the Tunisian police beat and fired upon demonstrators, hacked into their Facebook pages and kept any news about the protests off the domestic television stations, they couldn't stop the rapid Twitter communications, the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables describing the interior of the president's family homes and the Al Jazeera satellite feeds.
The unrest didn't get much trouble in the U.S., in contrast to the 2009 protests in that followed the disputed Iranian elections. But the loose hacktivist coalition known as Anonymous organized distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against Tunisian government Web sites after the country blocked access to WikiLeaks information.
Here's how the New York Times wrote about a massive demonstration that took place in the capital city, Tunis, hours before the president fled Friday evening local time:
Zied Mhirsi, a 33-year-old doctor, carried a sign that said, in English, Yes We Can, a reference to President Barack Obama, above #sidibouzid, the name of an online Twitter feed that has provided a forum for rallying protesters. On the other side his sign said, Thank you Al-Jazeera, in reference to the Arab news network's month of extensive coverage.
That hashtag, the name of a central Tunisian city that saw a pivotal early demonstration, was at one point updating at a rate of 1,000 posts per second. Most of the posts were in Arabic, French or English, laughing at how France had rejected Ben Ali's pleas for entry and how he was looking for safe haven in the Persian Gulf.
The Western news media was eager to call the 2009 Iranian protests the Twitter revolution, except that that revolution didn't succeed. It looks like this one might.
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