Everybody Calm Down
In the wake of the riots in London last month, the government there sought to shut down social media so it could not be used as a tool to allow another riot. Their claim was that the London rioters used social media to update each other on where to meet, what to do, and how to avoid the police. Given this, it seemed a good idea to them to blame social media and not their utter lack of control of the city and the inability of police there to control the situation.
Seems logical, right?
Needless to say, both Facebook and Twitter have refused, adamantly refused in fact, to cooperate or agree to shut down their service when the government asks them to. Citing personal and civil freedoms, both companies told the UK government they were not to blame anyway and that shutting them down would serve no purpose other than to curtail liberty. Don’t blame us, they said.
And for good reason.
It strikes me as odd that social media should be blamed for the rioting. If you agree with their proposed policy then the government should be able to shut down telephones, televisions and force individuals to not assemble in public as well. Social media is a communication tool, yes. And like all tools, it serves no purpose if not used. How it is used, however, is up to the user.
By refusing to give in to governmental pressure Twitter and Facebook have solidified the trust business owners have in their services, especially given the surge in interest in social media as a marketing tool. From a marketing standpoint I need to know the service will remain open, especially when interest and use is highest.
Not be shut down on the whim of a governmental official.
Set to square off with Britain’s home secretary Theresa May over the issue this Thursday, Facebook and Twitter will reportedly give no ground, and according to The Guardian, “strongly warn the government against introducing emergency measures that could usher in a new form of online censorship.” That said, there’s likely to be discussion about what the two social networking behemoths might do absent total closure to mitigate service misuse, including working more effectively with British law enforcement. Yep, we’ll want to watch that last bit very closely—it seems police intercepted private Blackberry communiques during the mess, and were able to use the information to thwart attacks on major London landmarks. That’s probably a good thing, but imagine authorities (police, government, you name it) claiming the same “listening” rights around peaceful protests or other civil gatherings, in which case it starts to sound like a very bad thing.
Accusations flew that vandals were using social networking tools as well as private messaging services to coordinate hostilities during the London riots, which occurred between the 6th and 10th of August. But thousands of well-intentioned Londoners also employed services like Twitter and Facebook to orchestrate mass cleanups during the mornings following. While the former wasn’t a surprise, the latter was, and a remarkable reminder of how much technology can help when purposed to do so.
Facebook and Twitter already reserve the right to intercept and eliminate user dispatches clearly intended to service violence or criminal activities, and it sounds like police can issue a warrant to gain access to private messages (say on Blackberry’s network), so there’s already a kind of mechanism in place for dealing with this stuff. No need to leap off bridges with all-or-nothing measures.
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