In the last two months, tiny Silicon Valley startups have proven their ability to upset the well-laid plans of autocrats half a world away. Just this week, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, failed spectacularly at banning Twitter, as local citizens found easy workarounds with tech tools, skirting blocks with tens of thousands of tweets mocking the impotent censors.
“I think that startups can perform functions once reserved to government, but they are well-served to be as educated as possible before they wade into foreign affairs,” Secretary Hilary Clinton’s former senior adviser, Alec Ross, writes to me.
The State Department is no longer the only bridge between a pajama-clad hacker and dissidents in the Middle East. Anyone with an Internet connection can wade into the dicey diplomatic waters of revolution, once reserved for governments. This new unregulated power has its promises and perils.
In Turkey, anti-censorship tech has thus far provided a safe and almost embarrassingly easy workaround for clumsy government censors. Erdoğan brazenly threatened to “wipe out” Twitter after courts approved a ban on the micro-blogging service for hosting anti-government content.
Almost immediately after the ban was instituted, information for workarounds spread virally.
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