2011: Riots and revolutions: How we all changed the world

2011: Riots and revolutions: How we all changed the world

Summary: 2011 was where you and I both formed a collective with millions of others worldwide, to protest, to ally with, and to empathise with, in order to make the world a better place.


The world is almost unrecognisable from a year ago. And we were the ones who changed it.

From widespread hacking to Steve Jobs' death, region-wide protests and patent wars. The web was free and open, and unlikely to be threatened, while the Arab world was bubbling under the surface, ready to take on their governments in a region-wide series of revolutions.

2011 has brought a wealth of change to not just in technology circles, but the wider global community.

Change should be, above any other word, the word of the year. Between you and I, from Wikileaks to one man alone sparking a revolution, we all played our part in changing the world.

From the most popular highlights to the crucial events that really mattered, here's how we did it.

(Source: Flickr)

January: Wikileaks subpoena threatens 600,000; Mass copyright milestone

Wikileaks was at the top of the new year's agenda, after a subpoena brought by the U.S. government threatened the privacy over 600,000 users of Twitter. Anyone who followed or interacted with @wikileaks fell under the scope of the subpoena, including an Icelandic member of Parliament who has diplomatic immunity.

Separately, the U.S. mass copyright lawsuit marker was set to hit the 100,000 mark as of January, as part of preliminary plans to set up efforts in the online piracy battle. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) came to the rescue by attempting to quash the subpoenas, but "copyright trolls who game the system" were still targeting many.

February: Egyptian uprising, revolution spreads across Africa, Middle East

The Arab Spring was one of the most talked about events of the year, with millions taking to the streets to protest against their oppressive regimes and governments.

Twitter and Facebook were key communication tools, and a force for change. With social media blocked and Internet connections to entire swaths of population cut off, this provocation only spurred on of the causes they set out to accomplish.

The "Twitter generation" relied on fax machines to dial up networking in efforts to break through the technological barriers installed by resistive states. While Western technology companies like Vodafone were caught in the fray, one thing was made clear. A technology may be defunct, but it does not mean it is no longer useful.

March: BlackBerry faces dark days; facing Facebook exclusion

Research in Motion began feeling the pressure as the BlackBerry maker was criticised by analysts as being a 'broken brand'. The brand at the time was secure, even if the company was not. It would be over half a year later where the brand itself would begin to suffer when over half the global BlackBerry population would lose service over a period of four days.

In the meantime, exams were looming for this then iGeneration columnist, and Facebook was crucially getting in the way. By 'killing off' Facebook for a week, social exclusion was to be faced head on. In the end, giving up a social media platform -- seemingly intrinsic to the Generation Y's daily life -- was likened to giving up smoking, in that it was difficult at first, but became easier over time.

April: Patriot Act series; Royal Wedding; ZDNet hits 20th anniversary

Theory was all good and well in ZDNet's Patriot Act series, where the U.S. counter-terror and surveillance laws were scrutinised and examined in detail. But it would be nothing without proof or industry reaction.

Away from politics, an estimated 2 billion people watched as the future king Prince William and Kate Middleton were married. The world interacted with meme's and Twitter hashtags, as the most watched event of the Noughties.

ZDNet also celebrated its 20th anniversary. What used to be a CompuServe subscription is now one of the most visited technology websites in the world. It was another opportunity to show how the world has changed by the humble Millenial during the time ZDNet has been on our screens.

May: Super-injunctions, Twitter's 'freedom of speech' moment

A very British affair, the entire UK population was gagged from mentioning the persons involved. Brits were also prevented from discussing the gagging order that was imposed, in what became the biggest story we couldn't talk about this year.

Confused? So were we.

Twitter was seen as a possible outlet for those who thought they could break the nationwide gagging order, which prevented the details of a number of held-in-secret court cases from being disclosed.

But in a near-anniversary editorial, it was made clear that the United Kingdom no longer had freedom of speech; arguably without a written constitution, perhaps we never did?

June: Microsoft admits Patriot Act risk; LulzSec disbands with a bang

After over a year of work, Microsoft, as a key player in the global cloud industry, admitted to ZDNet that European data held in the cloud by U.S.-based cloud providers is vulnerable to U.S. law enforcement inspection.

Through open discussion and real-time question and answering, ZDNet readers directly shaped and influenced the research, which would go on to change European law.

Meanwhile, hacking group LulzSec disbanded after fifty days of attacks on law enforcement, private industry and consumer services, as the net closed in around its members. In its final cache of released data, hackers targeted AT&T, and over 750,000 of its user accounts were released onto the web. Internal data pertaining to its 4G LTE rollout was also leaked by the hacking group.

July: Europe demands answers to reach U.S. law; Arab Spring retrospective

Hot on the tails of Microsoft's stark admission, the European Parliament demanded answers into claims that its laws were not protecting its citizens against 'third-country' law, including the United States. Members of the Parliament submitted written requests to the European Commission, its executive body, for clarification.

Along with this, citizen journalism was back in the spotlight after we looked back retrospectively at the Arab Spring, which had subdued over the summer months. How ordinary citizens play their part in reporting the news was also discussed in detail.

August: England riots in the 'thick of it'; AntiSec movement begins

Riots spread across England's capital and to other major cities in the UK, after a man was shot and killed by armed police in Tottenham, London. After days of violence, the police increased its numbers on the streets tenfold and calmed erupting tensions.

In the thick of it, this new criminologist wanted to stay longer and explore. But what was clear is that social media did not start the riots on the most part, but various technologies like BlackBerry Messenger were being used to organise and perpetuate violence and disorder.

Meanwhile, I had joined the ranks of ZDNet's Between the Lines.

Also this month, even though LulzSec had disbanded, it appeared to 'morph' into the wider Anonymous hacktivist collective. With this, Operation Anti-Security -- or 'AntiSec' as it was commonly known -- began. A vast amount of data from law enforcement was stolen, with hackers focusing on targets with lax or poor security in place.

September: World remembers 9/11; Facebook's impending mass exodus?

While for some it was hard to believe that 10 years had passed since one of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the country's history, it was marked with poignant and reflective stories of the day by ZDNet columnists.

Considering the Patriot Act had stemmed from the day itself, I gave a frank then-and-now insight into why it was necessary to investigate the law and its reach outside of the U.S.' territory.

Facebook also announced its Timeline profile page revamp at its f8 conference in September, much to the delight and dismay of many. Likened to a "stalker's paradise", many had taken it upon themselves to activate the new feature to access their old content in a bid to prevent others from seeing their past indiscretions.

Meanwhile, a German court -- though lifted a Europe-wide embargo on Samsung's Galaxy Tab sales -- still imposed a ban on the tablet in the country, amidst an ongoing global patent war.

Facebook's frictionless sharing feature came under fire as well during September, with Spotify updating its software to counteract the complaints made by many, that song tracks listened to were updating the social network.

October: Steve Jobs dies; Worldwide BlackBerry outage

When the news broke that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had died, within hours the masses found themselves outside their local Apple Stores and at the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, also.

He inspired not only an entire generation, but also how society worked, lived, and interacted with technology.

Also this month, BlackBerry services across at least four continents were disrupted for a period of over four days. A datacenter near London failed, which had knock-on after effects to other parts of the BlackBerry infrastructure. Users were left without data, from browsing to social media and email. The corporate response underestimated how bad things soon then became.

Towards the end of November, ZDNet's London Calling column kicked off, and the exploration into the UK and Europe began.

November: UC Davis and citizen journalism; Europe responds to Patriot Act

Video showing the pepper-spray assault on peaceful student protesters took the web by storm, as many were quick to condemn the actions by law enforcement as the furore continued to rise.

The official line given by the police was negated by the vast number of citizen journalists who had taken camera-phone footage, with the lines of 'spin' crumbling around the university's administration.

On the other side of the world, Europe responded to the concerns made by ZDNet and its readers that the Patriot Act could access cloud-stored data. It was confirmed that updated European laws would close the loophole, while some members of the European Parliament called for it to be 'patched' sooner rather than later.

In the UK, it was discovered that London's police service, based at Scotland Yard, bought blanket surveillance technology to remotely track and shut down mobile phones, an act which angered civil liberties campaigners.

SOPA, the online anti-piracy bill, reared its head during November, as the opposition intensified. Arguing that the 'broken web' should stay broken, the free and open web as we know it is under threat, and would jeopardise its very existence.

At the end of November, I left my iGeneration column of over 3 years behind, and handed it over to Charlie Osborne to continue.

December: Carrier IQ; SOPA anti-piracy bill; Government spying

Out of nowhere, it was found that millions of smartphones around the world were silently tracking and collecting data on its users. Carrier IQ was found on many networks and handsets, and its makers are set in the crosshairs by the Senate.

It was not just the private industry tracking you, though. Wikileaks' Spy Files cache showed how governments and private industry alike could spy on you. The new files show how easy it is to inject downloads in progress with spy software, and even use ISP-level surveillance to access others' computers and personal data.

As SOPA began its descent into the new year, it was found that many of the main proponents behind the online piracy battle were pirating content from the web. A new website showed that IP addresses belonging to the RIAA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security downloaded illegally copyrighted material.

Yet across the pond to Europe, new European data laws were leaked and found to align proposed legislation to other heavy-duty European directives. This first look at the law showed that companies could be fined on a massive scale should the data laws be flouted.

- -

All in all, the world has changed vastly since this time last year. We've all left our mark as part of the Anonymous collective, whether we subscribe to its values and ethos or even methods, or not. In how we support our partners in the Middle East and North Africa during their fight for freedom, to defending our rights to a free and open web.

How did we change the world in 2011? A little bit at a time.


Topics: BlackBerry, Apple, Social Enterprise

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  • Plus ca change

    ... there may have been a lot of action but there has been no change.
    One bad situation in Egypt appears to have been replaced by another.
    Cameron has stood alone to protect the City from Europe - I thought it was us who needed protection from the City!
    M$, Apple, AMAZON, ... the usual global corporates are strengthening their grip ... and we are assailed by measures like Protect IP and SOPA whilst propping up banks during austerity.

    There has been no major power shift in IT towards the consumer ... and won't be until more people wake up. At least you've woken up.
  • RE: 2011: Riots and revolutions: How we all changed the world

    Zack, I think you should stick solely to IT issues and only those that do not come to close to politics. You appear to have no understanding at all of what's happening. We, the IT people, changed nothing. Those "revolutions" were planned in the US and it was known already in 2007 where some of the "spontaneous" uprisings would erupt. The planners were no IT pros either, but if you're one it shouldn't take you long to find speeches of 3 to 5 years ago "predicting" what we witnessed in the last year or two ago.
    • All planned in 2007?

      Tell us more! Planned by whom? Predicted by whom? Why did the conspirators take so long?
      John L. Ries
  • RE: 2011: Riots and revolutions: How we all changed the world

    @John L. Ries<br><br>Seeing that you're so innocently surprised, I'll refer you to low tech source first, one that contains, among others, this wisdom about the US role in the 21st century:<br><br>"Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public's sense of domestic well-being. The economic self-denial (that is, defense spending) and the human sacrifice (casualties, even among professional soldiers) required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilization."<br><br>I won't do your homework but I'm sure you can find the source, easily recognize the author and take it from there. The source is inexpensive and it's not some basement, long haired hippie's writings, but I'm not sure it's available in and electronic format.<br><br>It's a baby step, and not really the subject for ZDNet, but since the so called "revolutions" were mentioned, you might want to open your eyes and use for yourself what one anti-communist Czech dissident once said over 20 years ago (forgot his name and the quote is from memory):<br><br>"We in the East have one advantage over you in the West. We don't believe in anything they write in official newspapers or say on official TV".<br><br>And they did. We thought that by simply not being the USSR we knew better and that we were right. We didn't and we were not. <br><br>Think Hillary supports democracy in Russia because she supports anti Putin demonstrations? Think again but don't look for answers on CNN or Fox. Did you hear about profound sadness in the US Embassy in Warsaw, Poland when they lamented a Polish presidential candidate's aversion to corruption? Our brave diplomats were saddened that fight with Poland's corruption would be against the US interests. Ever heard about the US helping Turks with a little (a few hundred thousand victims) ethnic cleansing operation in the late 1990's? I though so. But I'm sure you heard about the alleged reasons why NATO bombed Serbia. Who wudda thunk it was all a lie, huh? <br><br>The sources are reputable, very well known and you can get to them at.... oh, wait, as a US citizen you shouldn't read that one since as of late it is supremely unpatriotic to know some of the truth. It's OK to know the official truth though. Just like it used to be in the USSR.<br><br>The sad thing is that, too often but sometimes unbeknownst to us we, as IT professionals, help not those we think we do. Other times we do even much, much worse. But we are conditioned to do so through the process referred to as "manufactured consent". Check the term out while it's still legal to do so but don't settle for wikipedia. Make an effort if you really want to know. <br><br>Our role in the last year, and in many years prior, was to make sure those smart bombs were as bullet proof as possible. We are responsible for falicitating countless deaths around the world due to our ingenuity in designing better software guided instruments of death and facilitating superb communications among those directly perpetrating the killings. We had our low moments too, when that drone malfunctioned and we handed a large pile of technology to Iran, free of charge. You didn't think ADA and QNX were really used to calculate Veteran's pensions, did you?<br><br>But let's leave our bloody contributions to the world aside and let's switch to a lighter topic. One example could be that as IT pros we contrubuted to further depletion of public money and to draining taxpayer's wallets through largely ignoring open source technologies in many publicly funded agencies, and we definitely helped some very powerful people bring down the economy to its knees. <br><br>We have glorified one "visionary" for a shiny product or two, but it was only through readers' comments on ZDNET and CNET that we were pointed towards his quasi criminal cimplicity in serious human rights violations where these products were manufactured. Yes, people we never heard of or wondered about literally died so that we could pinch and swipe those screens wonderful screens, while putting some unscrupulous managers into brand new BMWs.<br><br>The ever present Facebook can't be exactly a source of our pride either. DOD, CIA and FBI like it though. It's free info on hundreds of millions of people. Well, almost free as DOD did contribute to Facebook at least $30M. Long live privacy! We're still doing better than the UK though, where 1984 has been a reality for a couple of decades. It will happen here too. For our safety and to maintain our way of life, of course. Whataver that means these days.<br><br>And I won't even go to too deep into this very ZDNET's role in trying to make SOPA a reality. <br><br>I'd like to finish with something cheerful so I have to command Zack for his hope about Playbook, despite ZDNET's unrelenting attacks against RIM, a business which will fail for one simple reason - BBM. If it's too secure and too tough to crack by the Saudi and by the UK governments, it will become increasingly inconvenient to the US government too. The PR has already been done now it's just a question of finishing up the hard work on creating "favorable" market conditions to kill RIM. It's been all working very, very well. Kudos to us! <br><br>To sum up, I'd rather ZDNET stuck to strictly technical issues of IT and leave the socio-political aspects alone. <br><br>Happy New Year.
  • 30 years of 'progress'

    If you look in The Times today, at the official secrets released from 1981, you will see how much has changed in 30 years.

    Nothing important.
  • RE: 2011: Riots and revolutions: How we all changed the world

    It's definitely been an interesting year, to say the least. I think the internet, especially Twitter has played a vital role in how quickly we've seen change. Take OWS, Bank Transfer Day, and many more. All started with a tweet. I've written more about this on my blog: "Taking it to the Tweets" http://sheenadangers.com/2012/01/taking-it-to-the-tweets/
  • RE: 2011: Riots and revolutions: How we all changed the world

    The cowards of fbi/cia direct our brave Young into useless battles & unjust wars.

    The cia directs our young, brave men and women into useless battles and unjust wars, while the fbi threatens, arrests, imprisons, tortures and kills the soldier/citizen (whether decorated or fatigued) upon return home. Thus, no wonder *West Point and other military academies frequent my reports in search of an answer to this question, "Who will follow us into the next battle"?