In the UK, in the wake of the recent riots, the government has declared social networks like Facebook and Twitter to be enablers of social chaos, and has said it will consider shutting them down during “emergencies” to maintain order.
PM David Cameron said recently:
“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill…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.”
Facebook and Twitter are speaking with the British government about permanently banning alleged rioters from using the services. Online companies of course employ lengthy and draconian user agreements that can be employed to censor or ban unwanted users or groups for any reason, including no stated reason at all.
One Tory MP, Louise Mensch, tweeted the following opinion, which has been much shared, about shutdowns of social networks:
“Social media isn’t any more important than a train station, a road or a bus service. We don’t worry about police temporarily closing those. Common sense. If riot info and fear is spreading by Facebook & Twitter, shut them off for an hour or two, then restore. World won’t implode.”
The Chinese press has of course delighted in seeing these kinds of statements coming from the British government, as they seem to confirm the wisdom of China’s heavily censored approach to supplying internet services and social media to its citizens.
The Chinese government controlled Xinhua News Agency said:
“The British government, once an ardent advocate of absolute Internet freedom, has thus made a U-turn over its stance towards web-monitoring…[l]earning a hard lesson from bitter experience, the British government eventually recognized that a balance needs to be struck between freedom and the monitoring of social media tools…[f]or the benefit of the general public, proper web-monitoring is legitimate and necessary.”
With Google and Facebook executives both calling for the end to internet anonymity, calling it dangerous and and a contributor to free speech, and with corporations increasingly kowtowing to government censorship demands, the world as a free marketplace for the exchange of ideas is crashing headlong into the desire of governments, and corporations, to completely control the content and influence of that marketplace.
The feeling of social media corporate executives towards free speech can be summed up in the following statement by Randi Zuckerbeg:
“I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away…I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.”
Zuckerberg, who is the recently-resigned head of marketing for Facebook, and is the sister of Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, articulates the view that social networking should be “safe” and “positive”.
These are not descriptions used by many or any governments in the world to describe critics of their behaviors, and nor especially people using the tools of social media to organize antigovernment political actions.
Anonymity in online communication is of course an essential tool for staying active, or in some cases alive, for political activists in many nations.