Egyptians Gain a Voice With Social Media Service Used by Stars

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This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.

Egypt's government faced international criticism when it blocked Internet service to try to suppress the uprising there. But Egyptian activists found other ways to get their message out.

Google, Twitter and a company called SayNow launched a service last week called speak2tweet. They wanted to give Egyptians a way to communicate with the outside world.

There are phone numbers for people to call to record a message. An audio file is then posted to Twitter. Anyone can listen to these voice-to-tweet messages at twitter.com/speak2tweet.

The phone numbers are listed on that page, and people can also call them to hear the tweets.

Ujjwal Singh and AbdelKarim Mardini launched SayNow as an American-based company in two thousand five. Thousands of celebrities use the service to connect with their fans. Google purchased SayNow at the end of January, just days before teaming with Twitter to create the new speak2tweet service.

Most of the calls have come from inside Egypt and most are in Arabic.

Volunteers are translating the messages into English, Spanish and French at the website Alive in Egypt.

People are also showing their support for the protesters through pages on Facebook. Facebook says it has five million users in Egypt, including one million on mobile devices.

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter  and YouTube also played a part in the protests that forced Tunisia's president from office last month.

Jillian York is with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. She says the use of social media has been different in the movements in Egypt and Tunisia.

Jillian York: "In Tunisia it was used mostly as a means to disseminate information about what was happening on the ground, often to cover the gap where traditional media left off. In Egypt we've seen people using social media to organize.

Jillian York is also a member of the OpenNet Initiative, a group that studies Internet censorship and spying. She says the Egyptian shutdown had a much wider effect than past Internet bans in Nepal, Burma and China's Xinjiang province.

JILLIAN YORK: "The Internet penetration rate of those three places is fairly low. And I think Egypt’s Internet community is about twenty times the size of those three places combined, and so this is the first time that something like this has had such a huge impact on Internet users.”

Internet service returned last Wednesday in Egypt after a five-day shutdown. Experts at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that the action cost Egypt's economy at least ninety million dollars.

And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report, written by June Simms. I'm Steve Ember.

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