Friday, 26 August 2011

Sanity prevails! The Government decide against censoring Social Media

Following the riots last month, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the Government would be looking at the possibility of closing down Social Networking sites during times of civil unrest, as they had been instrumental in the organisation of the rioters. This week Ministers sat down with representatives from Facebook and Twitter to discuss the matter and decided not to seek further powers to restrict Social Media.

This is a huge relief and great news. From a personal point of view, I work almost exclusively in Social Media and it's become an increasingly important part of many organisations across the Public, Private and Voluntary sectors. Any downtime could cause serious problems for those organisation's campaigns and would stop me and people like me from earning a living.

But, to a certain extent those are selfish reasons and there are much broader and more important factors to consider, which should lead Government to never actually seek those powers.

The argument for the powers came from the high use of social networks, especially Blackberry Messenger, by looters in coordinating their actions and inciting further violence. As Police and MP's took a tough stance in the aftermath, two young men were even given jail time for trying to start riots via facebook, despite them never actually taking place.

Anyone who uses the internet regularly will most likely be used to seeing hollow threats of violence all the time, with 'trolls' looking to antagonise whoever they can, safe in the knowledge that they'll never actually come into contact with their targets, but in this case, it wouldn't be tolerated. A crackdown looked imminent.

Immediately following the violence, David Cameron said, "We are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."

Happily, they have decided it wouldn't be right and a good job too. With the recent Arab Spring uprisings, Social Networking played a similar role to the UK riots; allowing protesters and demonstrators to easily communicate and organise. Again, similarly, the State in those Arab countries condemned the participants as looters and rioters and shut down many Social Networks.

Although there is debate on the motivations of the UK rioters, it would be difficult to cast them in the same revolutionary role as the people who looked to overthrow dictators in the Arab Spring. That said, it's not out of the realms of possibility that future civil disturbance in the UK could have a more defined and just cause than the recent looters and perhaps face a less just Government. If that Government had the special powers in place to censor the internet, we may find ourselves in a familiar and worrying situation.

Whether demonstrators or government was deemed in the right, both sides would draw crucial benefits from Social Media. It even had a plus side during the riots here, with the Public using the platform to avoid hotspots and find family and friends. The Police also found it useful in tracking down suspects and monitoring the spread of the violence.

Pressing the 'kill switch' would lose these positives and also have a deeper moral problem.

Social Media a medium for communication and hence speech. For that speech to remain free, censorship cannot be countenanced, no matter the justification. Otherwise, we head down the road of Iran, China and all those Arab regimes who look to oppress their people. Common sense seems to have prevailed in the UK and that now looks unlikely. Hopefully it will endure.

No comments:

Post a Comment