State takes on social media

30 August 2011

Governments face a dilemma in seeking to harness the opportunities of social networking, while trying to minimise the risk of civil unrest

Young men and women flooded the streets ready to fight with the authorities. They communicated with one another using Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry messenger, avoiding detection from the police.

They were not the same youth seen in the Middle East, they were not holding up slogans and banners calling for democracy and freedom, these youths were in London, holding up sticks and bricks, ready to cause destruction.

Only a few months earlier, these same tools had been praised for giving power to the people to help bring about change and revolution in the Middle East. And now from London it has become clear that this power is not always beneficial and can be used as much for bad as it can be for good. Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi responded to the uprisings by cutting of all communications during the protests, crippling the economy. Tunisia, Syria and Iran blocked access to certain websites to prevent protesters from communicating with one another and the rest of the world.

But it seems now that monitoring communications or blocking access to communications is not just the habit of repressive regimes as one of the world’s most affluent democracies is looking to pass legislation that liberty groups believe impinges on freedom of speech.

When the UAE and Saudi Arabia threatened to ban Blackberry’s messenger service late last year, most saw it as a form of oppression, a way for the state to spy on its citizens. But as the London riots are to suggest, these tools are can be used to threaten national security.

Research in Motion, the Canadian manufacturers of the Blackberry mobile has come under fire for its instant messaging service.

Laws and regulations for online activity are slowly being passed across the world, but governments that have an online presence are on quicksand, they will always be vulnerable to cyber attacks. The only way to prevent any attacks is to cut off all connections and in this day and age, this is not a realistic option.

Agenda: The online struggle of the state

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