A local news broadcast* covering the recent London riots concentrated on the destruction of a Sony warehouse storing CDs for a European release of a local band. Sensible angle for Music City, USA (a.k.a. Nashville).
The reporter made the point though that the rioters were using “social media” to organize and galvanize the riots. Just as this band and many others use social media like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace (well, at least Facebook and Twitter) to organize and galvanize their fan base. It’s as if the
Whatever. It’s just a silly news grab to make international headline events relevant to us local folk. Right?
Turns out, British Prime Minister David Cameron also finds it suspicious that rioters are using social media tools to coordinate themselves. The New York Times reports he and the British Government trying to work out a meeting with Facebook, Twitter and RIM (did Google say no?) to figure out how to best hamper this activity.
Newsflash: the rioters probably also use “telephones” to organize themselves, just like your local bands or governments or grandparents do. We better clamp down on phone usage, especially since I hear they’re going cordless. Might want to watch who we sell pens and paper to as well. Don’t want these crazy rioters abusing the mail service either.
This seems overboard, if not bordering on authoritarian. In the article, Cameron mentions that these social media tools help fuel the riots, as if they wouldn’t happen without them, or at least not at this intensity. That’s not how things work. Tensions spread regardless of communication tools at hand.
Despite that, these individuals do have the right to communicate. Facebook is quoted in the article as removing “credible threats of violence” from its site. Which is as it should. The businesses can be left to filter their users (typically not a side I’d expect myself to be on with Facebook). Governments punish after the fact.
While this is technically a US thing, unless there’s really a threat of imminent lawless action, government shouldn’t step in. While “imminent lawless action” is arguably the textbook definition of a riot, such speech shouldn’t be prevented but instead discouraged and then punished afterward. Not stopping people from speaking but delivering the consequences when they are shown to incite such harmful activities.
It seems the Manchester Police are using their own tools against them, tweeting out arrests of rioters in an online perp walk of sorts. Listing name, age and where they’re from, in my opinion, is a bit too much, but if it works, it works.
A more altruistic and peaceful example is @riotcleanup, a Twitter account dedicated to spreading info throughout the riot-stricken communities about how to help clean the damage.
The take-away from all this is that communication tools, from Twitter to writing a letter, are neither good nor bad. They are simply tools. If Twitter or Facebook decide to delete accounts for such content, that’s fine. It’s not a government’s place to tell them to do so.
People’s stupidity and tensions were massively contagious before social networks, after all. Now they’re just limited to 140 characters.
*Fox 17, either make your site more easily searched, or actually put up all your news clips.