Only after the online movement had gained an impressive offline momentum in Tahrir Square did Mr. Mubarak’s associates choose to switch off the Internet for a few days, further revealing their incompetence. It’s not that the Egyptian regime lost the online battle. They simply never entered it to begin with. It wasn’t the Internet that destroyed Mr. Mubarak—it was Mr. Mubarak’s ignorance of the Internet that destroyed Mr. Mubarak.
Other authoritarian regimes are taking cues from the events in Egypt, toughening their Internet controls. The Syrian government lifted a ban on Facebook and YouTube—nominally as a “concession” to opposition groups—but this was almost certainly done in order to more easily monitor public dissent. During the ban, Syrian dissidents could always get access to Facebook by using various tools for circumventing censorship and concealing their identities. This made Facebook slow and cumbersome to use, but it provided an extra degree of protection from the prying eyes of the Syrian police. Now that the ban has been lifted, the general population will flock to Facebook and expose themselves to the attention of the authorities.
In Sudan, Oman Al-Bashir has promised to extend electricity to the remote corners of the country so that his supporters can go online and defend him on Facebook. Meanwhile, the country’s police officials have been distributing false information about protests via social media sites and text messaging in order to lure and then arrest anyone who shows up at the advertised venues.