Published on 5 Aug 2011 Sections , ,

Vodafone Egypt faces hashtag backlash

Channel 4 News talks to an Egyptian blogger as Twitter users attack the Vodafone “Shokran” campaign, reigniting the debate surrounding the actions of mobile phone firms during the Arab Spring.

A Vodafone phone kiosk in Egypt (Getty)

The new complaints directed at Vodafone Egypt reveal Twitter users are still angry at phone firms that cut services during the political unrest across the Middle East at the start of 2011.

Vodafone Egypt is running the “Shokran” campaign during the month of Ramadan. It means “Thank You” in Arabic.

The campaign encourages people to show their appreciation to someone that they want to thank. Vodafone Egypt has promised to retweet messages using the hashtag #VodafoneShokran. However, many Twitter users have responded by attacking the phone giant.

“People see this hashtag as the chance to blame Vodafone for cutting telecommunications during the revolution,” Wael Abbas, an Egyptian blogger and human rights activist, told Channel 4 News.

“They are also bringing up all the bad things that they think that Vodafone has done – the prices of calls and all this kind of stuff.”

Some of the comments aimed at Vodafone on Twitter have been pretty extreme.

Vodafone Egypt attacked on Twitter:
@DrElGendy: thank you Vodafone because you contributed to terrorising the peaceful Egyptian people
@Kokilina: #vodafoneshokran who deserves thanking is you Twitter because of your sympathy with us, the thanks should go to Twitter not Vodafone
@FarahSaafan: I would like to thank Vodafone... they with Mubarak managed to separate Egyptians from the world #VodafoneShokran

Matt Peacock, Group Director of Communications for Vodafone told Channel 4 News: “What really is of consequence is the reanimation of the debate going back to the time of the revolution.

“My colleagues in Egypt were approached by the Mubarak regime and were ordered first of all to carry a number of text messages, which were government messages, and subsequently to take down the network,” said Peacock. “That was absolutely and categorically against the will of our employees in Egypt.

“They were forced to do this for the simple reason that unfortunately the authorities had the law and, more importantly, might on their side.”

Abbas does not accept this explanation from Vodafone. He insists it is “an international company and it can easily refuse”.

He added: “They [Vodafone] were just cooperating because they were scared and didn’t want to lose their business in Egypt. This is something that is not to be respected in Egypt at all.”

“No company wants to disconnect its customers, especially when something like that is going on believe me,” said Peacock. “Managing the shutdown from our side of the network we could bring it back up quickly and easily whereas if we had told the government no, they would have arrested our employees and shut down the network via their own infrastructure and it could have been down for an awful lot longer.”

“We would have respected them if that happened,” said Abbas. “They wanted to keep their infrastructure and they didn’t care about the blood that was being shed in the Egyptian streets. They should be ashamed of themselves.”