The Arab Spring and the Fate of Social Media Freedom - The RSS Blog
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Sat, 21 May 2011 14:27:44 GMT
The Arab Spring and the Fate of Social Media Freedom

Much, if not all of the success of the ongoing Arab revolutions of 2010-11 has been attributed to the organizing and information spreading made possible by sites like Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook. Armed not with rifles but smartphones, laptops, and cameras, the youth of the Arab world has been able to Tweet their way to toppling regimes and seriously challenging others once considered unmovable. The atrocities of their opposition are no longer occurring behind the brick walls of compounds but on grainy, shaky, but nonetheless gut-wrenching video made available to millions on Youtube. Governments the world over have invested billions into domestic defense systems designed around the threat of an armed insurrection. But nothing in their battle plans ever anticipated the power of social media in the revolutions of the modern age.

That's going to change, and don't think the United States isn't included. You might already take issue with many of the online restrictions already in place in the freest nation on Earth. Maybe you took the time to seriously learn about online poker strategy only to find out internet gambling is pretty much illegal in this country. That probably upsets you very much. But the internet poses potentially bigger problems to those in charge besides gambling complications. The United States and other stable countries are just a catastrophe away – whether economical or natural or otherwise – from undergoing domestic crises similar to those in the Middle East. Not even that – even localized issues can generate paramount protesting and upheaval if they're bad enough. This will obviously be fueled by the same social media tools used to launch the Arab Spring.

Leaders and lawmakers here are undoubtedly interested in inhibiting the revolutionary power of social media. The freedom of assembly, along with the other free speech rights entailed by the first amendment, were not written to anticipate the potential for information to be spread instantly and to millions. These issues have their origins in radio, television, and the internet in general, but not since social media has the information been completely outside the control of the government. Radio, television, and the internet are at least in some ways regulated by the FCC, and not only that much of the information that gets processed by the public is filtered through corporate influence and the industry focus of pushing commodities through communication: commercials. There are no such filters in social media. People can say just about anything to just about anyone who wants to listen.

How will lawmakers attempt to maneuver around our first amendment rights and restrict the social media inspired revolutions of the future? If legislators are good at one thing it's getting around the constitution as much as possible without actually infringing upon it. Watch for the way the internet itself is regulated in coming years – it might be the fate of online poker that you're most interested in but the political posturing may be less about such immediate concerns and more about keeping the ability to access one another so easily through social media to a minimum. Just remember, until then you'll have the power of social media on your side to prevent it. Take a lesson from the Arab Spring and prevent the fall of social media freedom.

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