As a US expat living here in the UK, I often find I do not see eye to eye with my adopted government. This has never been the case more than today. In an emergency Parliament session today, the politicians of the United Kingdom proposed something truly shocking for a western country: Disrupting online networking such as BlackBerry Messenger and Twitter during "Civil Unrest." I implore you to tell the United Kingdom how unacceptable such a suggestion is. This would be a very slippery slope to regulations that this growing social world would find incredibly stifling and reminiscint of communist China.
Attempts to Control "Likely To Fail"
There are some among the government who are seeing sense: John Bassett, a former senior official at British signals intelligence agency GCHQ and now a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said authorities grappling with violent unrest should avoid heavy-handed clampdowns on social media and instead try to enlist the help of the public against the rioters. He went on to tell Reuters:
"The use of social media in the unrest looks like a game-changer. But any attempt to exert state control over social media looks likely to fail." Yes, fail it will. If the UK was shocked at the riots this time, try to take away people's ways of communicating and see what happens...
Social Media For Good
These heavy handed politicians are so quick to look at the bad, but there is plenty of good. There have been meetups organized on Facebook and Twitter to help clean up the aftermath of the riots. John Basset has it right:
"A much better approach would be to encourage and support individuals and community groups in identifying alarming developments on social media and even speaking out on the internet against extremists and criminals, and ensuring that the police have the skills and technical support to get pre-emptive and operational intelligence from social media when necessary."
Using the riots as a way to exert more control of their citizens in the name of 'safety' is, to my mind, not giving the public enough credit. What are your thoughts about this? Benjamin Franklin once put it best: "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." I'd like to think if Franklin were alive today, he'd be seeing social media as a way for the people to exercise their freedoms and rally together for the common good.
You can reach Tammy on Twitter or on CrunchBase.
Sources mentioned: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/11/uk-update-1-uk-may-disrupt-social-networ-idUSLNE77A02H20110811 Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deia/42897463/