Already, parents and people in general are concerned about the influence and use of social media technologies during the on-going riots in London. And while I’m sure many will already begin to wonder if the likes of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry mobile phones are more hell-bent than benign, that kind of thinking is where the problems really begin.
Technology, in and of itself, is neither “good” nor “evil”; such things are human attributes only, and no matter what your thoughts are about the internet, for example, social media cannot not be good or bad. The fact is, people make technology bad. If we begin thinking about banning technologies we arbitrarily assume to be bad, then we should have banned the telephone decades ago, Morse code a century ago and the hand-written letter thousands of years earlier.
Using social technologies as a force for change
We only need look at the Obama presidential campaign, which relied heavily on the use of social media and social technologies. And more recently, the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East, which also relied on social technologies.
“In the wake of a controversial police shooting, Britain’s capital city has been rocked by two straight days of widespread rioting and looting. As with previous riots — such as those in Vancouver, British Columbia following the Stanley Cup final — everyone seems to be looking for a culprit, with some blaming Twitter and Facebook, and others pinning the violence on BlackBerry and its instant messaging abilities. But that’s a little like blaming individual trees for the forest fire.“
Those being the thoughts of Mathew Ingram, over on Giga Om, concerning the violence in London and the role of social media. The greatest failure of social technologies is how they were implemented in such permissive ways.
Many have criticized Saudi Arabia for blocking the Blackberry-to-Blackberry instant messaging service, yet we can now see that had such a block been in place here in Britain, along with similar restrictions on similar services, we may not have seen such a rapid progression of orchestration in the violence in London.
Of course, we can’t just block every service, since that’s neither legal nor practical. However, had the authorities had more flexibility in their powers, and had they co-ordinated their efforts more closely with the owners of Twitter, Facebook and Research In Motion, the creators of the BlackBerry, they may have had at their disposal the right tools to stymie the mass communication of these mindless parasites and killed the whole situation right at the start.
But this is after the fact. That aside, when we look at how we choose to use social technologies, and how they can affect the world both positively and negatively, I for one see a clear and unambiguous argument for the introduction of a common framework of tools adding to social technologies that allow the authorities, during times of crisis, to co-ordinate with the owners of major social technologies to control the flow of data and information.
Do that, and social technology becomes an intrinsic force for good.