Should Social Networks Be Closed During Times of Unrest?

by Sam Dean - Aug. 16, 2011Comments (0)

In recent years, online social networks have probably made some forms of personal interaction easier for you, but they may have presented some problems as well. For some people, the near requirement these days to be on the popular social networks feels like an intrusion--one more way that personal privacy is eroded. In the news right now, social networks--and connectivity technologies in general--are spurring controversy over the ease which they allow mobs and mob mentality to form. The governments and organizations opposing social networking tools, though, need to wake up to the technological times. From Britain to the U.S., they are reaching highly questionable decisions.

Perhaps you've heard of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's threat to completely shut down social networks in "times of unrest."  According to the U.K.'s Thinq blog, Cameron said this to the House of Commons:

"Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."

Cameron's comments, of course, come in the wake of recent riots in London, where rioters sometimes used social networking tools to coordinate their actions and locations. If Cameron's threat sounds like an empty one, consider an analogous set of current events in the San Francisco Bay Area in the U.S. Protesters recently gathered at the BART subway stations in the Bay Area to picket recent shootings by the police at the stations. The response from the subway officials was to temporarily shut down cell phone service at stations, barring potential protesters who wanted to communicate and coordinate from being able to reach each other.

Now, the FCC is investigating that questionable decision, as reports, citing this FCC statement:

"Any time communications services are interrupted, we seek to assess the situation. We are continuing to collect information about BART’s actions and will be taking steps to hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised, including protecting public safety and ensuring the availability of communications networks."

Social networks and cell phones are ever-present in our lives, and they will be part of almost every type of communication that large groups engage in for extended periods of time. Shutting down service when there is unrest is not the answer, is potentially dangerous, and is clearly the anti-open attempt to solve vexing problems. 

Mark Hinkle uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?


Share Your Comments

If you are a member, to have your comment attributed to you. If you are not yet a member, Join OStatic and help the Open Source community by sharing your thoughts, answering user questions and providing reviews and alternatives for projects.

Promote Open Source Knowledge by sharing your thoughts, listing Alternatives and Answering Questions!