Social Media and the UK riots
I’ve purposely not put up anything on the riots in UK and the social media scene until I’d had a chance to properly absorb the information in this scene. Firstly, the amount of violence and mayhem is just sad and tragic, and it saddens me to see this kind of chaos and violence to such a wonderful city.
The key question is CAN/IS Social Media to be blamed for the riots? The web is without a doubt one of our biggest hopes for the future, but with that arises a dark side too. Essentially, social media allows communities of people to congregate and organize themselves around areas that interest them, however the scary thing is the use of social media for acts of terrorism and violence like we’ve just witnessed in the UK.
Would banning Social Media mean that riots won’t happen again?
The article here states that PM David Cameron was looking to ban networks like Facebook and Twitter as a result of the riots however I think this isn’t the right move at all. If these types of organizing and conversation have started happening, then being able to leverage these towards a positive outcome is a far smarter move than banning them all together which means the users are just as likely to create these conversations somewhere else.
The Huffington Post states “The suspension of social networks is completely unfeasible. It is a knee-jerk reaction; a hastily constructed soundbite that the Government used to show that they were still capable of control over what was a senseless few days. The fact that this was even considered shows that those in authority have still not seen the merits of technology. Kevin Hoy, web manager at Greater Manchester Police, said to the Guardian that Twitter allowed his force to give “direct reassurance” and “dispel rumours…in a way that we could never have achieved previously.” He is one of the few to understand that power in today’s technology-connected world is the ability to converse. Many police forces have been using Twitter and Facebook in the last week to urge people to help identify looters from CCTV images and show that order is being restored. Greater Manchester Police did have one blip in this, tweeting a tweet about someone’s conviction that felt to many followers as gloating by the force, but their apology and subsequent tweets showed an authority that is willing to listen and engage – something that many members of society have accused police and politicians of lacking and a possible reason as to why what happened happened”
In recent times we’ve heard about this happening in Libya, Syria, Burma, and Egypt, it was undoubtedly horrible and those who live in the Western world thought “imagine a country where this could happen”. Digital freedoms seem to be getting challenged more by Governments and the challenge in my view isn’t unwarranted either.
The internet has something which has never been able to be controlled. Banning as few sites may do the trick, but there are thousands of Social Networks…will the conversation simply shift elsewhere? Aren’t you better off knowing that these conversations do take place in networks like Twitter and Facebook than them taking place in a network unknown all together? Which is scarier?
This brings me back to what Malcolm Gladwell said a while back in the New Yorker.
“The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concerns. When ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Moldova in the spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution, because of the means by which the demonstrators had been brought together. A few months after that, when student protests rocked Tehran, the State Department took the unusual step of asking Twitter to suspend scheduled maintenance of its Web site, because the Administration didn’t want such a critical organizing tool out of service at the height of the demonstrations. “Without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy,” Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security adviser, later wrote, calling for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online to push for change. “You are the best hope for us all,” James K. Glassman, a former senior State Department official, told a crowd of cyber activists at a recent conference sponsored by Facebook, A. T. & T., Howcast, MTV, and Google. Sites like Facebook, Glassman said, “give the U.S. a significant competitive advantage over terrorists. Some time ago, I said that Al Qaeda was ‘eating our lunch on the Internet.’ That is no longer the case. Al Qaeda is stuck in Web 1.0. The Internet is now about interactivity and conversation.”
These are strong, and puzzling, claims. Why does it matter who is eating whose lunch on the Internet? Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all? As for Moldova’s so-called Twitter Revolution, Evgeny Morozov, a scholar at Stanford who has been the most persistent of digital evangelism’s critics, points out that Twitter had scant internal significance in Moldova, a country where very few Twitter accounts exist. Nor does it seem to have been a revolution, not least because the protests—as Anne Applebaum suggested in the Washington Post—may well have been a bit of stagecraft cooked up by the government. (In a country paranoid about Romanian revanchism, the protesters flew a Romanian flag over the Parliament building.) In the Iranian case, meanwhile, the people tweeting about the demonstrations were almost all in the West. “It is time to get Twitter’s role in the events in Iran right,” Golnaz Esfandiari wrote, this past summer, in Foreign Policy. “Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran.” The cadre of prominent bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan, who championed the role of social media in Iran, Esfandiari continued, misunderstood the situation. “Western journalists who couldn’t reach—or didn’t bother reaching?—people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets post with tag #iranelection,” she wrote. “Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.”
Gladwell says Twitter and Facebook may have been used by demonstrators to communicate during the recent uprisings in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, but it isn’t clear they were crucial in any way to the revolutions there. Gladwell goes on to argue that other similar events have taken place in the past — including the demonstrations in East Germany that eventually led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall — and they didn’t require any such tools:
I mean, in cases where there are no tools of communication, people still get together. So I don’t see that as being… in looking at history, I don’t see the absence of efficient tools of communication as being a limiting factor on the ability of people to socially organize.
This is the same point Gladwell made in a short note about Egypt he posted at the New Yorker site in February, in which he wrote, “people protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.” As more than one observer has pointed out, this isn’t much of an argument. There were political uprisings before guns and tanks came along too, but no one would deny that guns and tanks changed the nature of social revolutions considerably. In a message posted on Twitter, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci called arguments about how revolutions occurred before X or Y was invented “intellectually lazy.”
In the CNN interview, Gladwell also argues that social media and other such tools can just as easily be used dictators and governments to crack down on revolutions:
[Y]ou could also make the opposite argument that some of these new technologies offer dictators a … give them the potential to crackdown in ways they couldn’t crackdown before. So, my point is that for everything that looks like it’s a step forward, there’s another thing which says, well, actually, you know, there was a cost involved.
I must say I have to agree with this to a large extent. If there has been uprisings in some countries, then Social Media alone cannot be blamed for it. yes, organizing social movements (of the anti kind) can be made easier at times via networks, but then again, social movements used to happen before the internet too.
As Charles Leadbetter states in WE-THINK, “… the web is the source of our most ambitious hopes for spreading democracy, knowledge and creativity……..but on the other hand the web is also the source of some of our most lurid fears: it has already become a tool for stalkers, paedophiles, terrorists and criminals…..”
What do you think? Can Social Media be blamed for the riots?