The C-word and social media
Events over the last week have got me thinking about social media and the C-word (censorship). Firstly, Twitter announced that it was ‘accommodating countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression’, i.e. enabling the blocking and deletion of tweets on a country by country basis. The example it gives is the legal ban on pro-Nazi speech in Germany and France, which no right thinking person is going to disagree with. The issue obviously comes when something is not to the taste of a particular regime, but a key issue that citizens of that country want to discuss. If you take the example of last year’s Arab Spring uprisings, would the tweets of protesters have been removed?
At the same time the European Union has published its new Data Protection Laws, which, if passed, will become law across all 27 EU members. These include the so-called Right to Forget, which means any citizen can demand that information they have posted on social media is not just removed from that network, but the entire web. Again, this is a question of degree – removing that dodgy student photo from Facebook when you start going for job interviews is one thing, deleting a tweet from a politician that makes him/her look stupid seems to me to be completely different.
None of this is new – all through history there’s been a conflict over the control of how information is distributed. In early civilisations this was pretty simple – only certain people could read/write/chisel hieroglyphics so rulers could keep a close eye on them. And if malcontents daubed slogans on the walls of public places, not a huge number of people would see them.
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
So, you can see Twitter’s new rules and the EU’s laws as just part of an ongoing struggle between the rulers and the ruled. However I think that social media has tipped the balance towards citizens and away from governments – it is simply too difficult to regulate, even with the support of the networks themselves. New ones will simply spring up – and the only way to combat them will be to switch off the internet entirely. And in our connected, web world that cripples a country’s ability to operate. So while censorship is still a threat it is beginning to become an increasingly empty one.
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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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