Recently news from the United Kingdom has focused on the violent rioting on the streets, with hooligans smashing and looting shops and clashing with police. When I saw the images, I was shocked by how such a modern city spiraled out of control. The violence erupted after London’s Tottenham district police shot and killed a man without a reasonable explanation. Youth’s then vented their pent up frustration over society, such as finding it difficult to get into university or find a job. This has led Prime Minister, David Cameron to call into question the role of social media such as Facebook and Twitter in assisting such violent and organized outbreaks.
CNN news reported that, President David Cameron said “Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media…Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them.” Now government officials are working with authorities to investigate whether it would be better to stop people communicating via social media when they “know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”
Of course, social media supporters have lashed out at the idea of blocking social media to any degree, as it denies the basic human right of freedom of speech and degrades democracy. Others have argued that Twitter and Facebook have been used for good to organize clean up efforts and call for peace.
For a long time, internet censorship has been the core of heated debates in China. It’s a complicated and tricky issue. Most Westerners who come to China, and are used to total access to social media back home, are shocked and confused by why the Chinese government blocks social media. For people, it impacts daily communication. For companies, it impacts their very existence. We all know the tenuous relationship between Google and the Chinese government.
But when even the most democratic government in the world, UK, is considering banning or imposing controls on social media, it starts to give interesting perspective on whether the Chinese government as a communist government had reasonable grounds to block foreign social networks in China. There are a number of suspected reasons for this, ranging from domestic economic protection to social security protection.
But if you live in China, you would know that social media, at least Chinese owned and operated social networks like RenRen or Weibo are not blocked at all. In fact, the exponential growth of mobile and internet users has triggered the boom in social networking. Instead, content is tightly controlled by teams who deem things appropriate or not.
I think social media networks should take responsibility for immediately removing any content that is clearly used to organize violent group activities before things spin out of control. I think it’s an invasion of privacy to pre-empt and monitor everything that is being written but at the least, social media companies can delete violent organization as soon as it is created. How they do this, is a different issue. Of course this is over-simplifying the situation and solution but there has to be balance between allowing people to communicate openly without compromising the general safety of the community.