According to the Guardian newspaper, the British government has pledged not to shut down social media during civil unrest. Home Secretary Theresa May told representatives of Research in Motion, Facebook, and Twitter that they have no intention of restricting internet services during public demonstrations.
This is a win for free speech and a major statement against censorship and totalitarianism. Dictators restrict the freedom of ideas when they do not agree with them but democracies do not. Blaming the UK's recent riots on social media would be the same as blaming the Arab Spring on social media.
The Gutenberg press, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, etc... never made people riot against their government. These technologies only enabled people to more freely connect and express their opinions with one another. Social Media may allow complete strangers with similar interests to interact with each other; however, social media does not make a person throw a Molotov cocktail at a government building.
Shutting down social media platforms and/or other forms of electronic communications during civil unrest may have unintended consequences. What if someone who is injured during a riot is unable to call for help because their communication device has been rendered inoperable due to a government shut down? In addition, a recent study by the Guardian has shown that it appears that social media was mainly utilized to react to the riots in the UK.
The bottom line is that governments should work to cure the problems that may cause civil unrest instead of blaming new electronic technologies that they do not fully understand.
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Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.