How important a role did Facebook play in the popular revolution that swept Egypt last week? According to data from security firm zScaler: it was very important. Fully 42% of the country’s Web surfing on January 27, the day before Egypt’s main ISPs abruptly severed ties to the Internet.
Activity on Egyptian Web servers monitored by zScaler surged by 68% on January 26th as the popular protests against the government of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak gained steam, as Egyptians looked for news coverage of the protests and leveraged Facebook and other platforms to spread the word about civil actions. Data from zScaler shows that traffic to social networking sites account for around 39% of all Web surfing on January 27th, while traffic to news sites accounted for another 27% of overall Web surfing activity.
The zScaler data, culled from a record of Web transactions to and from Egypt between January 24th and 28th, underscores the role that new, social media played in spreading information – and carry a worrying message for traditional news outlets. Facebook.com out polled the Web sites of both Al Jazeera and Google by a factor of seven on January 27th. Like the protests in Tunisia earlier in January, Facebook played a vital role in spreading information among protesters. As popular unrest spreads throughout the region, there is also evidence that citizens in other countries are following the model used in Tunisia and Egypt. A Reuters report on Monday notes that students at Khartoum University were injured in protests that spilled over onto Facebook.
The zScaler report also confirms widespread reports of a near-total Internet blackout in Egypt, which began on January 28. After recording a spike in Web traffic on the 26th, zScaler observed a drop to almost no Web transactions on January 28th. Domains that use Egypt’s .eg top level domain no longer resolve, suggesting that the DNS name servers responsible for resolving those domains to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are no longer online.
In a related note, Arbor Networks notes the same trend: a rapid rise in Egyptian Internet traffic on January 27th, and then a precipitous drop off at around 5:20 pm EST in the U.S. on Thursday.
According to both Arbor and zScaler, Egypt continues to suffer under a near total Internet and communications blackout, including cell phone, SMS and Internet access via satellite and fiber optic networks. However, a trickle of Internet traffic continues to enter the country to non-Egyptian customers of Egyptian Internet service providers (ISPs), Arbor reported.