SYRIANS WOKE UP IN FEBRUARY TO discover that the five-year ban on Facebook and YouTube had been officially lifted. Many had heard rumours of a repeal but such stories are common currency on the streets of Damascus and Aleppo and have been for years, so nobody had taken much notice.
It would be natural to believe that lifting the ban was some sort of reform, especially at this critical time when all regional governments are trying to appease their populations, however, call them cynical if you will, but many technical experts believe lifting the ban on Facebook will chiefly serve to allow the government to monitor Syrians even more closely than before.
Syrians previously accessed Facebook and YouTube via proxies (i.e. an intermediary server that will access websites on behalf of the user), thus providing anonymity to the websites, and cloaking their identity to the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Now though, instead of Syrian Facebook users having their identities cloaked by proxy access, they are all open to monitoring by the government through their own ISPs, with most believing that proxy use is no longer needed.
The catalyst for the ban lift was probably the recent revolts and demonstrations in the region, as dissidents and demonstrators were able to organise and plan their demonstration via social networks and blogs.
Syrians did nothing more than establish a Facebook page when the demonstrations began. The group named "I am Syrian I am Tunisian" called for Syrians to change their profile pictures to an image of the Tunisian flag, but once that group was shut down under "dubious" circumstances, many were enticed to start their own groups, an opportunity enthusiastically seized upon by Syrian dissidents overseas.
Syrian dissidents started calling for demonstrations and began to spread the word through Facebook, Twitter and their own forums. The government's immediate reaction, in an effort to counter such plans, was to ban all chat applications on mobile phones, such as eBuddy and NimBuzz. Opera Mini--the mobile application that facilitated access to Facebook--was also banned by all ISPs.
These applications remain banned in Syria, even after the clamp down on Face book and YouTube was lifted.
In the days leading up to the proposed demonstrations' dates, the government substantially increased its presence online, specifically on social networks, and managed to implement crisis-defusion strategies that...