Don’t shoot the (Blackberry) Messenger
Like most people I’ve been sickened and appalled by the recent riots in cities across the UK. Though actually riots are the wrong word – theft and looting were more to the point. The role that social media, including Blackberry Messenger, played in organising and propagating the disorder has been debated at length and clearly David Cameron has decided that Something Must Be Done. He’s consequently organising meetings with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and RIM to discuss their ‘obligations’ in times of civil unrest. Essentially Cameron wants to look at how social media can be switched off in certain situations and places.
Ignoring the technical considerations behind achieving this it has extremely unpleasant implications for free speech. It reminds me a lot of the Egyptian government’s response to the revolution there – forcing mobile phone networks to switch off to prevent protesters communicating with each other.
Both of these miss the point. Social media is like any other media – it is a communication channel and acts as a messenger equally for good or bad messages. A few other points against banning social media:
- Social media leaves a record – nothing on the web is ever really deleted, so idiots boasting about their plans/exploits can be tracked down and prosecuted at a later date.
- With the exception of the encrypted Blackberry Messenger it can be monitored and responded to – giving the authorities information about potential trouble. There have already been prosecutions for incitement to riot via Facebook.
- Networks such as Twitter are an information source – they enable people to keep up to date with what is happening, and provide an opportunity for the authorities (such as police and local councils) to damp down rumours through fast responses.
- People can use social media to organise for good equally well as bad. Look at the success of the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter and how that helped restore a semblance of normality to some affected areas.
Ultimately, the whole discussion comes down to people’s behaviour, and that is their own responsibility, not something that can be blamed on media, whether social or otherwise.
- David Cameron considers banning suspected rioters from social media (guardian.co.uk)
- The UK Is Considering Shutting Down Twitter, Social Media After Huge Riots (businessinsider.com)
- Cameron Exploring Crackdown on Social Media After Riots – New York Times (news.google.com)
- UK May Block Twitter, Blackberry in Riots – Bloomberg (news.google.com)
- Riots prompt social media review (bbc.co.uk)
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About meI'm Chris Measures and I've spent the last 18 years creating and implementing PR and marketing campaigns for technology companies. I've worked with everyone from large quoted companies to fast growth start-ups, giving me unrivalled experience and ideas. I'm now director of Measures Consulting, an agency that uses this expertise to deliver PR and marketing success for technology businesses.
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