During the last few days, after seeing the power of the people succeed in Tunisia and Egypt, Libyan Internet activists created groups on Facebook to call for political and economic reforms in Libya. Libya's dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, has now cut access to the social network (and other websites), according to the AFP:
Access to social networking site Facebook was cut in the Libyan capital on Friday and access to the Internet was intermittent amid deadly anti-regime protests, computer users reported. From early evening it was impossible to access the popular Facebook site, and connections to other sites were either very slow or not possible, they said. The state of Internet connections in the rest of the country was not known.
The BBC has confirmed the news, but details are still scarce:
Col Muammar Gaddafi's government in Libya has taken a series of measures, including blocking internet sites and shutting off electricity to try to quell rising unrest. Emerging reports suggest a mounting death toll from days of clashes between security forces and protesters.
Al Jazeera also mentions Facebook explicitly, but only says that specific opposition group pages have been blocked. At the same time, it notes that its website Aljazeera.net throws up an error when accessed from Libya.
In summary, it appears that Facebook and other websites are being blocked in at least some parts of the country. A quick check on Herdict shows that some users have reported that Facebook, Hotmail, and YouTube are inaccessible to them, while others are reporting they still have access.
Just yesterday, I reported on how the Gaddafi had warned against the use of Facebook. It looks like he decided the warning wasn't going to be enough. At that time, preliminary reports said 40 protesters had been injured. After 72 hours of protests, there's a death toll, and it's at 46. "Sources at al-Jala hospital in Benghazi today told Amnesty International that patients' most common injuries were bullet wounds to the head, chest and neck," according to Amnesty International.
Gaddafi has controlled Libya for more than 40 years, since 1969. This is longer than both Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987 to January 14, 2011) and Egyptian dictator Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak (1981 to February 11, 2011).
Facebook has been credited for helping protesters organize in both Tunisia and Egypt. The social network was also blocked in both to discourage demonstrators and make it harder for them to rally together. Ironically, the two countries are now using the service to boost their image.
It is not clear if the whole Internet has been blocked yet, but it is definitely more than just Facebook. We can only hope that the pro-democracy protests in Libya receive as much media coverage as the ones in Tunisia and Egypt. The Libyan government needs to know that the world is watching.
Facebook declined to comment on this story.