Kidnapping Facebook passwords in Tunisia

There’s been quite a bit here and in many other blogs about the role of social media in the fall of President Ben Ali in Tunisia. One tweeter, @SoniaEdu, sent me an indignant message insisting that what people did was more important than software or networks after a post in which I’d been talking up the role of informal media in the revolt. “(The revolt) was Tunisian.,” she wrote, “Those are tools. It’s like saying the scalpel saved patients because it was used by a surgeon.”

No question that Tunisian people took the risks and made it happen. But a scalpel can be sharp or blunt, well-designed or poorly made. The quality of the blade will make a difference to the result. So it was with Facebook, Twitter and the material they carried which also reached Tunisians via satellite television channels based outside the country.

If you doubt the fear that Facebook was creating inside the regime, read this terrific piece of reporting by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic on the battle waged between the Facebook security people and hackers in Tunisia trying to steal the passwords of every Facebook user in the country. The protesters’ cutting edge stayed sharp despite attempts to blunt it.

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