Research Articles

The ‘Kill Switch’ as ‘Suicide Switch’: Mobilizing Side Effects of Mubarak’s Communication Blackout



Paolo Gerbaudo is a Lecturer in Digital Culture and Society at King’s College London. His research focuses on the interaction between media and space in contemporary activism. He is the author of Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism (2012), a book discussing the relationship between social media use and new forms of public assembly in the social movements of 2011 from the Arab spring to Occupy Wall Street.
This article discusses the effects of the Internet communication blackout, or ‘kill switch’, unleashed by the regime of Hosni Mubarak during the first days of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. It argues that while the regime hoped that the blackout would stop the mobilization and disrupt the activists’ internal coordination, this move ended up having more of a positive mobilizing effect than a disruptive one. This was for two main reasons. First, the ‘kill switch’ shattered the consensus in favour of the regime and the passivity of middle-class youth. Second, by excluding the possibility of a virtual distant connection with the protest, it forced many sympathizers to turn into supporters of the movement by physically joining the occupation in Tahrir Square. Reflecting on the implications of these findings the article concludes by asserting that the role of social media as a means of mobilization is highly complex and ambivalent, and that it has to be understood in complementarity with, rather than in opposition to, face-to-face interaction and street-level communication.

Keywords: social media, protest mobilization, digital activism, communication blackout, Arab spring

How to Cite: Gerbaudo, P. (2017) “The ‘Kill Switch’ as ‘Suicide Switch’: Mobilizing Side Effects of Mubarak’s Communication Blackout”, Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture. 9(2). doi: