How to Stop a Twitter Revolution

Twitter Attacks, Not Started in Russia: Experts

Russia is hardly the first country to see such a tactic, according to online communications experts.

Shirky said that the Iranian regime was suspected of pioneering anti-protester strategies on Twitter during the so-called "Green Revolution" in 2009. While the true worth of social media during that landmark movement has been hotly debated in the years since, it saw the emergence of the mysterious "Iranian cyber army" whose priority it was to attack opposition figures wherever they existed online, including taking them head-on on Twitter and, failing that, by reportedly temporarily taking down the whole system in December 2009.

But Zuckerman said it was government supporters in Bahrain and Syria that first truly used spamming, or trolling, to dilute protesters' message. In one particularly notorious case in Syria, an alleged bot network spammed the hashtag #Syria with anything from pro-government messages to one apparently still-active Twitter feed that simply recounts every score of every game played by the Syrian national soccer team. In October this year, a conference of Arab bloggers in Tunisia told Twitter followers to flat out not use the hashtag #Bahrain as it would result in "the nastiest trolling," according to a report by The New York Times.

"Cyberspace has emerged as a leading sphere of contestation between largely democratic forces seeking to use the Internet and related 'liberation technologies' to expand and enhance freedom, knowledge, and connectivity and autocratic states eager to stifle that potential," according to "Access Contested," an academic study of cyber freedom published by MIT Press in November.

To Zuckerman, it's a battle that won't end anytime soon.

"I would see the hijacking of a [hashtag] as just a symptom of a much larger situation and it looks pretty large indeed," Zuckerman said. "Governments… are figuring out how to fight back."

Representatives for Twitter did not return requests for comment on this report, but Zuckerman said that in the past, Twitter has taken steps to combat spamming by shutting down accounts that appear to be part of a bot network and blocking certain suspect tweets from showing up on the public feed. A representative for the Russian government in the U.S. did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this report.

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