It is generally acknowledged that the big social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter played some part in the various Arab uprisings over the last year or two. In fact these sites were vital for relaying information in and out of the countries involved. However there are numerous problems with relying on these sites so much. For one it’s very easy to block access to these sites within a country. Most despotic regimes have the capability to ensure that people can’t visit a particular site.
This perhaps is the least of the problems with dealing with social media in such a country. You can be sure that if the East German Stasi were still around today blocking access to Twitter would be the last things on their minds. There is increasing evidence that countries like Iran and China are also monitoring what happens on these sites. Imagine you pick up and identify a leading protestor and gain access to their Facebook account – you’d soon have a huge list of Friends who are posting in the same country. Pick up their IP addresses and you have their location too – how to round up enemies of a regime quickly and easily.
It is why many of the protestors in some of the most dangerous countries use anonymity tools and techniques like found on this site – http://www.theninjaproxy.org/. Using a series of secure proxies to hide or change your true IP address is one way to protect yourself online. It enables people to write blogs, send emails and organise protests with a higher degree of safety. Of course there are still significant dangers but at least one of the simpler ways that a regime can track people down is avoided in part.
There are other security programs available for free to help in these situations. One of my favorite is a little app in the Android store that obscures peoples faces automatically in photos. Many people have been picked up by security forces simply because they happened to appear in a photo taken at a protest somewhere!