The medium is not the message

In the wake of the London riots, British Prime Minister David Cameron is pointing a finger at Facebook
and Twitter as the culprits
, and he’s “summoned” them along with the makers of the Blackberry “for a meeting to discuss their roles during the violent outbreaks.” He wants to ban anyone from social media who appears to be using it to plot “disorder.”

So would he “summon” Smith and Wesson if there was a shooting spree or call in a fertilizer manufacturer if someone made a homemade bomb?

Cameron said, “Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.” Sure, that’s true – but who gets to decide what is “for ill”? From my understanding, the riots in London were mainly perpetuated by a bunch of hoodlums who didn’t even understand why they were rioting, other than to steal some TVs. But what if they had a legitimate cause?

What about Tunisia? Egypt? Libya? I’m sure the ruling governments (regimes) of those nations deemed the organizing of the revolutions via social media to be “for ill.” But the rest of the world didn’t.

I heard a report about Turkey recently on how they are imprisoning reporters and individuals who speak out against the government in a negative way. And I really liked Hillary Clinton’s response. She said that, yes, in the United States she hears people speaking out against the government in ways she thinks are ill-informed, inaccurate or just plain reprehensible. But, she went on to say, the system is secure enough that it can handle such criticisms, and almost always the voice of reason from so many more citizens drowns out the nut jobs. (The use of the term nut jobs is mine, not hers.) Is the British government not secure enough to deal with some angry teenagers? Don’t you think if you ban social media, they’ll just find another way to use to organize?

So, Mr. Cameron, instead of pointing your finger at the companies who provide the medium, why don’t you use that medium yourself to persuade your citizens to do the right thing? Why not use Facebook and Twitter to drown out the fringe voices by providing solutions to their complaints or at least by offering a productive alternative to rioting? Why not show them that you’re listening to them, not just listening in on them?

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