I *love* watching the House of Commons on C-SPAN; it’s a great reminder of how utterly shameful and lacking the public dialog in the United States is by comparison. The idea that the chief elected officials gather as a collective, unable to dodge criticism and tough questions through carefully-staged press conferences or “townhalls” loaded with confederates is very appealing to me as someone in public relations.
That said, I must respectfully disagree with the right honourable Speaker of the House of Commons on the proposal that the British government look into stifling the free flow of information on the Internet (via social media) as a result of the riots that plagued London for the past few days:
Similar proposals have been floated in the US, most notably by Sen. Joe “The Jowls of AIPAC” Lieberman who wants an “Internet Kill Switch” to be used in a “cybersecurity emergency.”
I have two problems with these proposals, and to the MPs in the House of Commons I would recommend thinking long and hard before trying to curb speech online:
1. It’s not possible.
As Hosni Mubarak found out in Egypt, trying to stop electronic communications by throwing the “kill switch” doesn’t work because there are too many ways to get around it. Closing the telecommunications pipes that carry information can only do so much because there are so many wireless and even low-fi options for communicating.
So even if you *could* shut traditional channels of social communication down – the people would find ways around them. Not only that – but you may push them further from your reach where the actions of criminals aren’t as readily documented as they are in the traditional social networking sites.
2. The Internet can Help Repair the Damage it Enabled
The same tools that spread messages of anarchy can spread messages of justice (as I detailed yesterday). Just as surely as discouraging stories of people at their worst emerged, so too will inspiring stories of people at their best.
Not only that, but doubtless many Londoners relied on social media to stay in contact with loved ones and keep them out of harm’s way as the rioters moved through the streets. They may even have used it to alert authorities to fires and violence – and they certainly used it to document crime in progress.
I implore you not to plan for the worst when the best constitutes the vast majority of the utilization of social media – it will stifle creativity, impede business, and foster mistrust. You should be far more worried about misuses of an Internet/Social Media kill switch than you should about vandalism and theft.
Just give it a chance; as you so elegantly say – “Truth will out!”