Cross-posting: bit.ly and the new age of #revolution

Important internet fact #1: When the end of a URL is .il, .uk, .us, .jp, etc., that tells you the country in which that URL is registered.

“As it turns out, the “.ly” suffix is a top-level domain that’s under the control of the Libyan government, in the same way that “.uk” and “.jp” domains are controlled by the U.K. and Japan, respectively….Because the Libyan regime retains ultimate control over the domain, it can unilaterally decide which sites or services can use it. “


Back in October, URL shortener vb.ly was shut down by the Libyan government for being “adult-friendly” and violating their idea of “Islamic sensibilities.” Subsequently, there was tentative fear that bit.ly, one of the oldest and most popular URL shorteners, could suffer the same fate, thereby throwing oodles of Twitterers into the doldrums on account of having to switch to goo.gl or t.co. As a point of reference, bit.ly’s blog archives go back to October 2008, where as t.co was only launched in June 2010 and goo.gl went public in October 2010. Bit.ly is, IMHO, the pre-eminent URL shortener used on Twitter today.*

Beyond the generally interesting coincidence (Twitter, new media revolution, bit.ly hosted in Libya) and as it is proof of both the globalization and international connectivity brought to us by increased use of new media implementations, is there really any relevance or import to bit.ly’s servers being in Libya? Yes.

It took vb.ly’s confrontation with Crazy-ddafi to bring the spotlight into bit.ly with respect to the Libyan revolution. Who would have thought that of all things popular revolution, the gritty, person-to-person, grassroots, street-based debacle, could throw bit.ly’s entire existence into question?

Switched goes on to postulate:

“The problem for bit.ly, of course, is that there’s no way to tell what the Libyan government of tomorrow will even look like. Libya’s registry policy currently outlaws any .ly domains deemed to be “insulting of religion or politics,” sexually obscene, or “contrary to Libyan law or Islamic morality. … If Gadaffi ultimately loses power … the next regime “could place even more stringent restrictions on the .ly domain.”

(Well, forgive me for hoping the “next regime” won’t be restrictive, or oppressive, or whatever.)

But many of the links being shared through bit.ly are probably “contrary to Libyan law” and certainly “insulting of politics.” They are unquestionably contrary to Gaddafi’s best interests as a power-hungry oppressive dictator. So in theory, bit.ly can also be shut down because of its use by anti-Gaddafi Twitter-protestors.

By uniquely occupying the space between Gaddafi’s regime and the massive dissemination of information intended to pull his Persian rugs out from under him, bit.ly can occupy one of two roles: with the people, or against them. And so far, it has been a major tool of the people.

Should we be concerned, as activists, concerned citizens, and new media and internet “natives”, of bit.ly’s close (presumably) or at least business (proven) relationship with the unfortunately-still-current Libyan regime, with all their human rights violations and accusations of collective hallucinogenic abuse? As socially-conscious new media users, how far do we take our collective responsibility?

Is there a reason to abstain from using bit.ly?

Only two of bit.ly’s five servers are hosted in Libya, so there’s a also a 40% chance of the server used being in Oregon and 20% of it being in the Netherlands. And though it is in theory controlled by the Libyan government (though contrary information seems to suggest that Libya licenses .ly URLs for commercial use, presumably they still have to conform to their registration standards?), it seems we can better topple the Libyan regime by exploiting this connection than by blasting bit.ly for it.

Though the bit.ly-Libya connection is just a coincidence, it can and has become a new form of subversion; spreading anti-Libyan-government news and information through servers obviously and ubiquitously hosted in that country and controlled by the government that news is intended to destroy.

I still use bit.ly. It’s just programmed into my fingers, I guess. Has anyone’s choice of URL shortener actually changed substantively since the onset of the popular protests in Libya? Everyone else uses bit.ly, too, and there really isn’t any reason to stop. Rather, I think there’s a pretty strong argument to keep using it. So far it’s still live, and it’s prominent use as a URL shortener for Libya-related tweets is, if not subversive, then at least ironic.

Let’s run with this; perhaps a new form of global, digital semantic revolution: use .us domains to protest American government actions (or even better, get a .gov domain). Use Israeli domains (.il) to protest the occupation of Palestine or apartheid in Israel. Use Burmese domains to protest the detention of democracy activists such as Aung San Suu Kyi. Use Syrian domains to protest Assad, use Lebanese domains to protest – well – what isn’t protest-able in LB? Use Saudi, Iraqi, Iranian domains…well, you get the picture. It’s subtle. It’s internet-age collective subversion.

The Switched article goes on (reasonably) to say that in instances such as Libya where so many people are dying, the fate of .ly sites individually is small potatoes. And it is at the moment. But broadly speaking and in the longer term it has significant potential in several ways; as an (unintentional or intentional) way to protest repressive control over means of communication, as a subversive protest specifically of Gaddafi’s regime and M.O., and as a signifier of what I see as the sheer power of information sharing through new media tools.

When we think creatively and exploit the expansive boundary-less-ness of what the internet’s current structure, even shortened URLs within 140-character tweets can be a profound statement of purpose.

*Twitter app users, you don’t count because of automated URL shortening through t.co.

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