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The Digital Disruption

Authors: Eric Schmidt, Chairman, Google Inc., and Jared Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow
October 26, 2010
International Herald Tribune


The video is painful to watch. Amid screams of fear and pain, a Syrian girl at a school in Aleppo is forced to hold her classmate's legs in the air. With a disconcertingly casual expression, their teacher hits the classmate's feet repeatedly with a stick.

This video is at the center of a scandal in Syria. Although Facebook and YouTube are banned there, the video has gone viral and has gained over 4,000 fans on its page. After bloggers and the local news media took notice, the Syrian government investigated and recently announced the firing of the teachers involved.

Syrian activists have used connection technologies to encourage protest before. Last June, mobile phone users used blogs and social networking sites to coordinate a boycott of Syrian telecom providers over high prices.

However, the foot-beating incident is the first time activists have leveraged these technologies in a successful human-rights campaign. It illustrates that in repressive societies like Syria, where activists have to worry about getting caught, they increasingly operate Web sites rather than offices, gain followers rather than staff and use open-source platforms rather than relying on grants.

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