Social Media: The Question of Regulation and Moral Panic
October 19, 2011
Toronto, October 19, 2011 In the wake of demonstrations and riots organized through social media channels, the notion of regulating these channels has become increasingly more persuasive in the hopes of either preventing riots altogether or sourcing some responsibility.
Beyond the argument for public order, offers Randall Craig, social media and web expert, and author of the Online PR and Social Media series, proponents of regulation point out that governments already scan all phone and email conversations for issues of public safety and security. And in the private sector, emails are routinely scanned as well. Scanning encrypted messages sent from a Blackberry is said to be putting this platform at parity with the others.
Craig also offers a few arguments that suggest regulation and control are inappropriate, and ultimately unnecessary:
1. For the good: Providing a back door that governments can monitor, takes away a primary way for ordinary citizens to assert their right to free speech. Social media empowers for good as well as for bad, but it doesnt do anything unless a person actually uses it. It is how a tool is used that determines if it is good or bad.
2. Essential freedoms: Most jurisdictions recognize peoples rights of free speech and privacy. By regulating this one channel of communication, we begin a slippery slope to a society that does not value or protect any freedoms.
3. Accountability: People should be held accountable for their specific actions using evidence that is lawfully obtained, without trampling the rights of the majority. In London there are 1000′s of video cameras that can be used to identify suspects. By questioning the suspects and examining their smart phones, police can work backwards to identify the organizers.
4. Crowd-sourced justice: Bystanders have been known to use their Smartphones to post pictures and videos online. In the UK, the London police force have set up a web site of pictures and videos (www.met.police.uk/disordersuspects), asking the public for help to find and catch rioters. And on Facebook, Vancouver citizens outed hockey rioters as well (www.Facebook.com/vancouverriot2011photos). More than anything else, these countervailing activities will reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of using social media for bad. No longer is it possible to hide when Google, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube see all.
The use of Social Media for unlawful activity is not being advocated, and there is a fundamental belief that anyone who breaks the law should be prosecuted to the full extent of that law. But the restriction and loss of freedom of expression exclusively in one communication channel is inappropriate, and because of crowd-sourced justice, unnecessary.
Since 1994, Randall Craig has advised on web and social media strategy. He is the author of six books including the Online PR and Social Media series. More information about Randall Craig can be found at www.randallcraig.com.
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