Syrians may be able to start accessing Facebook and YouTube for the first time since a ban was instated in 2007.
As the Associated Press reports, on Tuesday, Internet users in Syria said they were able to access Facebook and YouTube — without the aid of proxy servers —for the first time in years. The reported ban lift comes just two weeks after Syria banned programs that allow access to Facebook chat. Many news outlets are speculating that the government’s change of heart stems from fears that protests similar to those in Egypt might erupt in Syria.
Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had planned a protest, scheduled to start last Friday, in Syria’s capital, Damascus. Like the organizers of both the protest in Egypt and an uprising in Tunisia that forced the ruling party from power last month, they used Facebook to plan the event. One Facebook Page got about 17,000 likes, but the “Day of Rage” failed to materialize.
While Egypt took down Twitter, Facebook, and then the entire Internet in reaction to protests in that country, Assad may be ready to make some changes in favor of open communication in order to preemptively quell future uprisings.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Assad distinguished Syria from what is happening in Egypt and Tunisia, but said that Syria would consider reforms aimed at solving shared problems of countries in the region.
“As for the internal, it is about doing something that is changing; to change the society, and we have to keep up with this change, as a state and as institutions,” Assad said. “You have to upgrade yourself with the upgrading of the society.”
Lifting the block on Facebook and YouTube isn’t a huge concession. Most people in Syria access the social platforms through international proxy servers (they did, after all, organize the failed protest over Facebook). But at least one U.S. government official applauded the change as a first step in opening communication, though one useless without other freedoms.
“Welcome positive move on Facebook & YouTube in #Syria but concerned that freedom puts users at risk absent freedom of expression & association,” tweeted Alec Ross, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior advisor for innovation.