The internet is changing civil wars, and will change them further

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“… some shrewd guesses at what changes are yet to come.”

Huh? All of this is already happening, live and in colour.


Over reliance on the internet and cell networks means that in real civil unrest, turning those systems off will have a huge impact on people’s ability to communicate and coordinate actions.
More so than before people started relying on the internet for everything. Using older methods requires planning, practice, and often expertise, as well as the hardware.


Only if that cash can be transferred to where it’s needed.

During the 2011 protests in Tahrir Square, we tried to organize delivery of pizzas to the square from local pizzerias, paid for by supporters on the Internet via credit cards. That failed because credit transactions from outside of Egypt had been cut off by the government. (Protest pizzas were later revived in Wisconsin and are continuing to be used, yay!)


The revolution will not be televised liveblogged!

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Left-wing uprising against Bush? The finger-wagging would have been ruthless!

Ironic that in the buildings in the background of your photo of Independence Square there are several banks with ATMs on the outside. Most likely cut off and buildings evacuated during the conflict. I’d be willing to bet that all internet access was jammed as well. Unless one had a portable sat dish like the military and cartels use.

I was in Kiev two years ago and you’d never know anything went down. Well, except for the funerals.

The internet may change civil wars but, it can’t keep people from killing other people.


That’s one side of the story.

The recent election hacking happening around the world, the bot storms and black social media programs are the other side. Everything here that supposedly enables grassroots rebellion can be used by governments and interested third parties to subvert popular movements and crush them.

I wonder what Zeynep Tufecki has to say about this work.


Most nation states are no longer in a position where they can just “turn off the internet” without locking up their economies. Turning off the internet means turning off banking, finance, credit card transactions, and that’s just the obvious stuff. My favourite example would be GitHub, which both China and Russia tried to ban because it is a vast labyrinth where you can exchange any sort of information you like, and both ultimately failed because the website is simply too useful to too many businesses, and the move created too much backlash in both countries.

At what point does civil unrest get so bad that it’s worth disabling your own infrastructure? Pretty much at the point where the bank is already burnt down anyway and you’ve declared martial law but it’s still not working.

Also true of police investigative methods, surely? I suspect many police departments would be as crippled as any other office by an internet outage, but on top of that the internet is now a big part of how police do police work, especially when dealing with activist groups.

Drone strikes are largely directed by cellular metadata. If you knocked out the Afghani cell network it would make it harder for the Taliban to organise, but harder still for our forces to find them.

Edit: I think I misremembered, Russia only tried to block specific projects on GitHub but found policing forks untenable. I don’t think they ever went so far as to try blocking the whole site.

Edit again: The proliferation of cheap IoT hardware means that even if you did knock out the internet, in any reasonably dense area you will soon have an ad-hoc replacement. There are a few examples of this in the wild already, if there aren’t more it’s only because so far there hasn’t been much need.


Except that it is not “the internet” as in a purely technical, politically agnostic network system. Civil wars are organised over facebook and twitter, which are US-centric, commercial entities. Obviously, since they run the servers, they have the power to filter and dump what displeases them. Their only limitation is that they cannot be blatantly obvious about it or their users will realise what they really are.

I mean: facebook and twitter made Trump president. Do you really think they are politically neutral?

Interestingly, social network companies mirror the situation at the time of the cold war. Facebook is active in the USA and its allies, Russia uses vkontakte and China uses Baidu.

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We are talking about civil wars. So while it is very true that shutting down the internet would cripple commerce, that might not be as true for cell networks. Even so, the ability to shut down internet and cell service in an area of conflict is a tool in government’s arsenal.
Of course, it can only be done a limited number of times before people learn to work around it.

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