Can Google Help Protesters Bypass the Egyptian Internet Shutdown?

Google has teamed up with its newly acquired voice company, SayNow, and Twitter to set up a service for Egyptians to post tweets via voicemail.It didn't take long for Google (GOOG) to find a way to make use of its newly acquired social-media-voice company, SayNow. After announcing the deal just a week ago, the company teamed up with Twitter this weekend to launch a service that allows Egyptians to tweet via voicemail, bypassing the Internet shutdown.

The move not only gives SayNow's technology a prominent spot in the international limelight, but -- according to political and anthropology experts -- also could aid proponents of political change in Egypt.

In less than 24 hours since Google blogged that Egyptians could call one of three international numbers and post tweets via voicemail, the feed has racked up 8,660 followers who have posted 897 tweets -- roughly one tweet every two minutes.

Sidestepping the Shutdown

Because the Egyptian government has shut down Internet access within the country, Egyptians aren't able to directly view the tweets. But university professors say they're still a benefit to proponents of the uprising.

"It's extremely effective, because the particular generation involved in the insurgence are under 30 and sophisticated when it comes to technology," says Edward LiPuma, an anthropology professor at the University of Miami.

For starters, Egyptians can still access satellite connections via their cell phones, he says. By calling Google's international number, they can not only post tweets, but also listen to voicemail tweets from others.

"The Egyptian government can't stop people from accessing satellite connections," LiPuma says. "This is what happened in Iran two years ago. The Iranian government couldn't stop people from communicating and sending out video over the satellites."

Back in June of 2009, the political upheaval in Iran was dubbed the "Twitter Revolution" by some. An editorial in The Washington Times noted that "well-developed Twitter lists showed a constant stream of situation updates and links to photos and videos" as Iranians protested the questionable election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tweeting for an International Audience

The Egyptian Twitter feed also has the potential to have a "boomerang" effect, says Amanda Murdie, an assistant professor of political science at Kansas State University.

"When information gets outside a country, it can mobilize the masses from other countries to bring pressure on that state from abroad," says Murdie, who noted that the method is often used by nongovernmental human-rights organizations. "You can imaging the same mechanisms would work with Twitter or YouTube."

The professors, however, acknowledged that without direct Internet access, the dissemination of information has become more difficult.

"The process will be delayed and it may mean less protests or mobilization efforts," Murdie says. "It hurts mobilization, but the spark is still there. The resources aren't completely gone."

Apparently not. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced late Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in September.

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