Image via Wikimedia
After 19 odd hours of darkness, Syria's internet flickered back to life on Wednesday. The traffic monitoring company Renesys reported the first signs of activity flashing on the networking around 5:30 p.m. local time, just a few hours after the Assad regime broke its silence about the outage. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported earlier Wednesday that a "fault in optical fibre cables" caused the outage and that they were working hard to restore service "as soon as possible." Guess what: the government is probably lying. (What else is new?)
The data hawks at Akamai followed the outage from the precipitous drop on Tuesday afternoon to the return of Internet traffic on Wednesday, and they're pretty skeptical about the Assad regime's faulty cable claim.
"Our monitoring shows that Syria's international internet connectivity is through at least four providers, and published submarine cable maps show connectivity through three active cables," Akamai's David Belson told the BBC. "As such, the failure of a single optical cable is unlikely to cause a complete internet outage for the country."
And in case you forgot what a complete and almost immediate Internet outage looks like, the Google Transparency report provides this nice little graph of what happened to the traffic to its services on Tuesday—Akamai's graph of total web traffic is equally as condemning:
Sure, it's possible that a technical glitch contributed to some downtime. This even happens in the United States, where there is a not currently a civil war tearing the country apart. But as the Akamai guys suggest, the flatline is a telltale sign of tampering. Like I said on Tuesday when Syria went dark, this has happened so many times before, it's hard to imagine how it wouldn't be an intentional move by the regime.
It feels like a gut check, actually. It's been a few months since the Assad regime flexed its cybermuscles and showed the people that it can shut them up whenever it wants. Why not just flip the switch and give them a day to think about what life without the rest of the world would be like?
For the regime attempting to intimidate activists, turning off the Internet really does serve as the ultimate power play. The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks so, at least.
"The details of the situation in Syria are still unknown, but we’re deeply concerned that this blackout is a deliberate attempt to silence Syria's online communications and further draw a curtain over grave events currently unfolding on the ground in Syria," wrote the EFF in a blog post after the outage. "While heavily censored, monitored, and compromised, the Internet has served as an important window connecting the world at large to Syria, and one way that international observers could connect with individuals on the ground in that country."
In other words, without the Internet, there's nobody to hear the screams.