According to the Washington Post, Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, lost the Internet today. As many Americans are aware, the 2 1/2 year struggle in Syria, which has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people and turned millions into refugees, has hit another low point. The Assad regime has been accused by the United States of recently using chemical weapons against civilians. Obama is currently threatening to go to war with Syria, despite the fact that 50% of Americans are fully against any form of military action. Moreover, the intelligence community insists that the evidence is “weak” when it comes to clear proof that the regime used chemical agents that killed over 1,400 people (that figure includes 426 children). Some sources point the finger at Al-Qaeda rebels who have entered the country after the civil war began. Until quite recently, U.S. officials, like Secretary of State John Kerry, were courting the Syrian president, claiming that Damascus – the capital of Syria – was a pathway for the Middle East to “peace.”
As for Internet news and more specifically social media, it is troubling to imagine a city’s Internet going completely down. Apparently, this is a common occurrence in Syria. Outages appear to take place when attacks occur or when Assad gives public speeches.
This brings up the question, then, of whether or not the Internet is a human right. After the Arab Spring that began in December of 2010 after a man in Tunisia named Mouhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire, social media became a key tool for protesters (both violent and non-violent) to communicate, execute, and carry out demonstrations. As for Bouazizi’s story, like many people in the Middle East, he was struggling to make ends meet, was a fruit seller, and unable to find steady work. After officials confiscated his goods, he then committed suicide as a form of political protest on January 4, 2011. Shortly thereafter the Arab Spring exploded in country after country in the Middle East. Many long-time dictators, such as Hosni Mubarak, who ruled with an iron fist in Egypt from 1981 to 2011, were taken down by popular uprisings. Other regimes responded with brutal force. In the case of Syria, Assad crushed popular dissent, which then unleashed civil unrest, violence, and eventually outright civil war in the country. (This is when Al-Qaeda rebels began pouring into the country, which also raises questions as to why the United States government is funding such rebels who have extremist political agendas).
Social media has played a huge role in these popular uprisings (just as it did when Occupy, which was a movement inspired by the Arab Spring and launched outside of Wall Street on September 17, 2011, spread like wildfire across the United States).
So, the question remains, is the Internet a human right? Why or why not?