Shutting social networks: The clash between the 1.0 government and the 2.0 citizens.
- Friday, 12 August 2011
Things in Britain look bad
As Londoners continue to pick up the rubble and carnage from this week's riots, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is exploring new ways to maintain order -- including, apparently, a government crackdown on social media.
In fact, his speech in the House made it rather clear, law enforcement officials should be able to curb and monitor the use of social networking sites under certain circumstances, lending credence to the theory that mechanisms like Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry played a critical role in inciting the recent violence.
«Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized by social media. Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill. 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 web sites and services, where we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."
Waisting their time
It's probably a colossal waste of time. BlackBerry Messenger and Twitter — which, by the way, are being used for clean-up as well as whatever criminal activity people allegedly plotted by phone — were called out particularly during the riots, but they are just two services among many.
Twitter, for its part, has indicated a refusal to cooperate with efforts to shut down the service or any specific account — but wouldn't comment on whether or not it was providing information about its users to authorities. BlackBerry vendor Research In Motion has indicated it will cooperate with British authorities, but it's not clear exactly how.
Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger aside, there is an ever-longer list of services that provide real-time messaging — and even tools designed specifically to circumvent state intervention in mobile communications or Internet use. If Cameron's goal is to prevent criminals from being able to talk to one another, he's entering into territory that is becoming more and more difficult to navigate by the day. It nevertheless confirms our fears that nowadays, more and more governments are now trying to control and censor the world wide web.
And Waisting Freedom?
There's a fine line separating issues of national security from the rights to free speech, but it's a line that Cameron seems willing to toe. And, though he and his government are only mulling the idea, it's difficult to ignore the irony in his statements as shutting down social networks is not an unfamiliar approach to a situation which is getting out of hand.
Keep in mind that this is the same man who roundly condemned Hosni Mubarak for shutting down Egypt's internet at the height of its revolution, calling for the now-ousted leader to fully respect the "freedom of expression and communication, including use of telephones and the internet (which is now recognized by the UN as a fundamental human right)."
Cameron, of course, isn't calling for anything nearly as drastic as what Mubarak orchestrated, nor is he facing anywhere near the same level of domestic turmoil. But the fundamental narrative remains the same: in the face of social upheaval, a national leader instinctively reaches for a digital muzzle as a stop-gap measure, a tactic used in wartime situtations, while (perhaps) ignoring the larger, longer-term ramifications.
This rings particularly true when such statements are followed by declarations announcing that the police should have more (absolute) power to fight back against angry mobs of citizens instead of attempting to understand the deep roots of the problem.
Because social despair and disillusionment are no new phenomena, and lately these emotions often manifest themselves in the form of civil unrest, it seems that the glue of our societies is at stake.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a take on the psychology of the disenfranchised: "There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people in that society who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that they have nothing to lose. People who have a stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don't have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it."
We ask ourselves: are the riots somehow related to something bigger that a simple desire for a new plasma TV?
It seems so, because one thing is sure: it's that there's a rather unusual level of diversity in the social and economic backgrounds of the 1500 individuals arrested in the past five days. And frankly, we do not see why the daughter of a Billionaire would strive to get her new high-tech gadget the hard way. Perhaps, this suggests that the problem is not only economic in nature.
We'll continue to reflect on the topic - and let you know. In the meantime, please people...keep Britain tidy.
All the pictures used here are the work of controversial street Artist and Activist, Banksy. His work is worth a look (if you haven't heard of him already). He has produced a brilliant movie/documentary, "Exit through the gift Shop", which reflects (in it's own way) on the nature of the Art Market. Stunning! We like, we recommend!