With the exciting (largely) nonviolent overthrow of the Tunisian and Egyptian authoritarian governments, there has been talk of the effects of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools on these events. Techdirt points us to the use of Usenet to keep the outside world informed of what was going on in the Soviet Union during the 1991 coup. It is an interesting, albeit brief read.
Certainly in the Tunisian revolution, Anonymous seems to have had a hand in helping to take down government servers. Certainly, if they were able to hack the computers and phone system of the presidency and make it difficult communicate with others then that would have contributed to Ben Ali's ouster. Certainly, the internet can allow local nonviolent activists to work together and abroad to plan their efforts and craft fliers to distribute about goals and tactics.
Different articles have downplayed the effects of the internet and social media on the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and else where, but one of the keys to a successful nonviolent revolution is that large numbers of people must not fear government repression and realize that others do not fear such repression as well. By increasing communication between people, the internet and social media help that process. Hopefully these tools will get used to help overthrow authoritarian governments in the Middle East and beyond.