Online social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have recently been hailed as powerful and effective communications tools for social and political movements throughout the world.
However, according to a new study from Penn State University researchers, these popular sites may not be as uniformly beneficial or robust as suggested.
For example, in nations like Egypt which recently experienced civil strife, the study found these online tools were not only used by freedom fighters, but also by governments to repress their people.
The study suggests the media’s depiction of these revolutions being caused by this technology may be an over-generalization.
During anti-government protests during this year’s Egyptian revolution, citizens there turned to online communications such as blogs, text messaging and social networks to spread information criticizing the government.
Reports at the time indicated that approximately 56,000 Egyptians became members of a Facebook page about the movement and around 15,000 citizens used Twitter accounts to find and pass along information about the protests and anti-government activity.
But, as the study’s researchers point out, the government itself, led then by Hosni Mubarak, took action to quickly crack down on bloggers, actually taking over Egypt’s Internet and text messaging services.
Furthermore, key mobile network operators – such as Vodafone, Mobinil and Etisalat – honored government requests to suspend service.
However, other telecommunication companies, especially those outside of Egypt, stepped in to help the protesters circumvent the ban.
The study raises key questions about the role of telecommunication companies and when it’s appropriate for governments to step in and block communication.
The study was presented today at the workshop, “New ICTs + New Media = New Democracy?” in Washington, D.C.
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Construction of New James Webb Space Telescope Progresses
Work continues on the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA’s next generation of space observatory, after the astoundingly successful Hubble, will give us an even sharper, more in-depth view of the cosmos.
NASA is testing part of the sun-shield which will protect the telescope’s mirrors and instruments during its mission to observe the most distant objects in the universe.
According to NASA, this sun-shield will consist of five tennis court-sized layers which allow the Webb telescope to cool to its cryogenic operating temperature of minus 233.17 degrees Celsius, or 40 degrees Kelvin.
The tests, expected to be finished within two weeks, will be the final step of the sun-shield’s development program.
Once testing of the sun-shield layers concludes, they’ll be sent to Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California.
There, engineers will verify the process of just how the layers will unfurl in space and then fold the sun-shield layers, much like a parachute, to be stowed for launch.
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What Makes Honey Bee Society Buzz
We’ve long heard about how highly structured and organized the honey bee societal system is. Yet, despite more than a century of research, much remains unknown about the biochemical factors behind this fascinating caste system.
However, scientists in China and Ethiopia, who’ve been conducting research into these mysterious honey bee societies, are providing some insight.
You might recall, from long-ago school lessons, that there is usually one queen bee in a colony, which develops and emerges from larvae. She is fed royal jelly, a protein-rich substance that’s made from the secretion of glands on the heads of worker bees.
While the queen is receiving the “royal treatment,” the other larvae in the colony develop into female workers or male drones.
Even though they both share almost identical genes, the female queen bee tends to grow large in size. Her specialty within the colony is reproduction, while the worker bees are responsible for maintaining the colony itself.
Their life spans also vary, with the queen living for one to two years while the workers live for about six or seven weeks.
The scientists looked at proteins inside the cells of larvae destined for queen and worker status. In the early stages of a honey bee’s life – in the activity of proteins with cell structures that produce energy for cells – they found differences in the amounts of protein produced in cells as well as in the activity of those proteins.
With pre-queen larvae, the proteins involved in carbohydrate and energy metabolism were much more active than in the larvae of bees destined to become workers.
The researchers say this suggests that proteins with metabolic enhancing activities play a significant role in determining the colony’s caste system and hierarchy.
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