Revolutionary Measures

Don’t shoot the (Blackberry) Messenger


Image by StuartBannocks via Flickr

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.



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August 12, 2011 - Posted by | Social Media | , , , , , , , ,


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  3. […] Obviously this changed with the printing press, which provided the ability to make multiple copies of documents relatively quickly and easily. So governments regulated printers (and pretty much still do) to try and control what information was disseminated. What makes the internet and social media so different is that you don’t need expensive printing and distribution channels – you can tweet or send a Facebook update using a mobile phone or PC from anywhere. Governments can track down who is responsible, but it takes time, hence the wholesale banning of social media […]

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