In the wake of the riots in London, the rise of dangerous "flash mobs" around the United States and Europe, and protests from the San Francisco Bay to Green Bay, Western authorities are increasingly looking to follow in the footsteps of such upstanding people as Hosni Mubarak, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hu Jintao in targeting social media and mass communication as they grapple to restore order. This is a dangerous, unjust, and immoral vein of thought that is atypical of the dictators of the world who are so desperate to maintain power that they neglect that which is causing unrest. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron has told Parliament that he is considering banning people
from sites like Facebook and Twitter while ordering news broadcasters to comply with police by surrendering unused footage of criminal activity to the authorities. This ignores the fact that the private owners of things like YouTube, Twitter, and Blackberry are usually more than willing to regulate themselves (YouTube is constantly taking down terrorist propaganda) and assist authorities with addressing criminal activities and handling emergencies (as Blackberry did during the recent riots in London).
Meanwhile the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco cut off cellphone usage
in an attempt to stop planned protests against BART and police for the fatal shooting of a homeless man. In light of flash mobs--which are groups of mostly young people that organize usually on the Internet for a surprise mass action, sometimes for something humorous like a "spontaneous" dance but recently for actions of violence and thievery in places like Cleveland, Philadelphia, and the Wisconsin State Fair--some authorities are considering extending PATRIOT Act-like infringements on privacy to social networking and texting services or cutting people off from them (Philadelphia recently decided just to institute a curfew on young people and not attack the Internet). Citing the need to protect the nation from a serious cyber attack, Congress has been working to grant the President the extraordinary authority to use a "kill switch
" to turn off the Internet in the event of an emergency (on that note, it is worth mentioning that President Obama has declared more disasters
and emergencies than any of his predecessors).
While people do use social media and communications technology for dangerous, violent, and bad things, that does not merit the government attacking the entire system. Regulating or banning social media because a minority uses it for evil things would be akin to shutting off television because someone says something offensive or prohibiting protests because the Westboro Baptists are vile human beings who say cruel and hurtful things. Though cybersecurity is a serious issue that must be looked at and dealt with, it must be done so in a way that does not endanger people's rights to speech and privacy. Instead of clamping down on communications, BART and the UK and others should instead look at what is causing these acts and address those causations, not take away tools that are the right of all society to possess.