Syria's Internet Blackout Is Over, but the Digital Civil War Blame Is Just Beginning

Rebecca Greenfield
Syria's Internet Blackout Is Over, but the Digital Civil War Blame Is Just Beginning

It's still relatively unclear whether the Assad regime broke the Syrian Internet — even if nobody else, even "terrorists," really could — but after a 19-and-a-half-hour near countrywide shutdown since Tuesday evening across Syria, service started coming back today, according to multiple analytics firms. Here's Google's transparency report showing resumed activity around 9 a.m. Eastern time (around 4 p.m. in Damascus):

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Both Akamai and the Renesys Corporation have similar-looking graphs of a traffic comeback: 

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Syrian authorities again blamed the incident on "terrorists," according to the BBC. Specifically, the state news agency blamed a "fault in optical fibre cables," suggesting that rebels physically cut cables, according to CNN. But, as we explained Tuesday and when this happened in November, that's a highly unlikely cause for an entire warring nation's Internet access to vanish for nearly an entire day. "Our monitoring shows that Syria's international internet connectivity is through at least four providers, and published submarine cable maps show connectivity through three active cables," Akamai's David Belson told the BBC. "As such, the failure of a single optical cable is unlikely to cause a complete internet outage for the country."

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Rebel opposition leaders, their followers, and many around the world continue to blame the military government of Bashar al-Assad, suggesting that it cuts off communication to silence activism and disrupt the uprising whenever it feels a digital hole in its carefully constructed civil war strategy. It's very possible and even easy to shut down access for an entire region, as Rob Faris, the research director at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, explained to the Huffington Post. "If a country wanted to remove itself from the Internet, it can," Faris told HuffPost. "There are a limited number of international gateways, and it's really just a matter of how many telephone calls need to be made." Telephone calls from the top, that is. We'll let you know if further explanations surface, but we wouldn't count on it.