Moves to open the Internet in Syria were to enable the government to control citizens on a scale not attempted before.
In an attempt to calm the general populace from doing another Libya, the Syrian government promised to relax Internet restrictions. It seemed to do this by unblocking popular social networking sites.
However it turned out that it was luring the online revolutionaries into a well prepared battleground staffed by the Syrian Electronic Army.
Although these seem to be independent hackers they are a little too large and well organised. They have also been praised by the state, which suggests they have official funding. Since the state relaxed Internet rules, the SEA has been able to attack targets both foreign and locally.
According to Aljazeera using the relaxed state controls they have overtaken certain Facebook pages, such as those belonging to French and US presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama, TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey, and the page for ABC News and flooding them with comments like “we love Bashar al-Assad” and “I live in Syria, stop lying, nothing is happening in Syria”.
The have also hit the US Department of Treasury sites, in light of US government plans to impose further sanctions on the Syrian regime.
They have shut down websites which belong to rivals and have been flooding popular Twitter hashtags with largely irrelevant content.
The army has also been involved in counter attacks on AnonPlus, a nascent social network set up in response to the suspension of Anonymous’ account on the Google social network. The defacement included several images of corpses purported to be “Syrian army martyrs”, or members of the Syrian military killed by “armed opposition”.
But while the case for an open internet is seen as the way of freedom, it is clear that the Syrians have worked out that it is also a way of control.
By having lots of traffic flying around the internet from people you don’t like, you can actually monitor them. One of the downsides of switching off the internet, as was done in Egypt and Libya, was that it made it harder for Government forces to find out what was going on. Those opposed to the regime were required to use more clandestine methods which were difficult to track.