Too Much Free Time

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
russia, twitter, usenet



How The 1991 'Usenet Revolution' In Moscow Predates The 'Twitter Revolution' Claims

from the technology-does-what-technology-does dept

With all the pointless talk about whether or not Twitter/Facebook were somehow instrumental in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, Shocklee points us to an interesting predecessor: the mostly forgotten news of how some geeks in Moscow used Usenet during a 1991 coup attempt to spread news around the world, even as the official media was totally cut off:
USSR, August 19 1991: While Mikhaïl Gorbatchev was on holiday in his datcha located in Crimea, Eight apparatchiks attempted to seize power over the state. Hostile to reforms, the “Gang of Eight” tried to prevent the Perestoika reforms and the loss of their satellite states. These eight orthodox Communists launched an attempted coup d’état by installing themselves as The State Committee of the State of Emergency. After Gobatchev returned he tried to restore order and save face, but it was clear that this episode would eventually lead to his downfall.

In this well documented event, there is an interesting historically episode which is often overlooked. During the two days of the coup the Russian media was shut down, and thus not covering Boris Yeltsin ranting on top of a tank for the crowd, nor the shock of the international community. All channels were blacked-out except for one; Usenet, which is the grandfather of chat-rooms and is capable or surviving without the Internet. For these precious 48 hours, a few dozen individuals contributed to this last means of communication with the outside world.
Obviously, it's not an identical situation to what's been going on today, but there is an interesting parallel, about how people gravitate to tools of communication in such events. And, no, I'm not serious about the "Usenet revolution" claims, but it is neat to see what was effectively an early version of the way that people in various countries have used today's online social networking tools to communicate with the outside world. At the very least, it's a fun historical read, that covers a story that many folks probably know nothing about.

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  1. icon
    Chris Maresca (profile), 16 Feb 2011 @ 12:48am

    Wasn't the only channel...

    ... or perhaps even the largest - people also used FidoNet extensively. I was running an import/export company at the time and we specialized in sending consumer goods to the former Soviet Union. FidoNet was one of the only reliable ways to communicate as it could take days to get a phone line.

    Quite frankly, I don't remember anyone using Usenet - all the communications I ever heard off and did were through FidoNet. Even CNN was using FidoNet to file reports...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FidoNet

    AFAIK, most Usenet servers were in universities, not exactly bastions of independence at the time, while FidoNet was largely run by independent volunteers. But what do I know ;-)

    Chris

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