This year we’ve seen democracy protests in Egypt, flash mobs in Cleveland and Chicago, and most recently, rioting, looting and fires in England. What do all of these have in common? They have all been enabled to some extent by social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
What is the most natural reaction of a big government to a problem caused by social media? Naturally, they try to ban or censor it. We saw this happen in Egypt, when Mubarak shut down the internet. We’ve seen how Pakistan has shut down Facebook. It seems like more and more countries are following China’s great example for isolating people from news and social networks.
So what would you expect from the politicians of Britain? It looks like the impulse to protect people from the Internet (for their own good) isn’t absent in Britain, after the riots there. A report from EFF.org (the Electronic Frontier Foundation) provides a quote from Prime Minister Cameron which displays another misguided swipe at free speech in social media:
…when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So 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. I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers.
Is this what England needs? Do they need police powers to censor social media? Of course they do, after all, it worked so well in Libya and Egypt. We’ll know more about what’s going to shake out from the rhetoric once members from social media services Facebook and Blackberry RIM meet with UK government officials on the 25th of August.
I hope that freedom wins over a restrictive political solution. As Ben Franklin once said “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”
The police need more understanding of how social media works, and not more power to stop it from working.