A Riot to Tweet?

If there is one thing that could make me look with favour on the idea of "banning suspected rioters from social media", it's reading Jeff Jarvis lecture the UK government about free speech, pointing to the US constitution and continually promoting his new book as he does so.

Jarvis' argument combines slanted rhetorical questions with banal platitudes. He asks "Who is to say what communication and content should be banned from whom on what platform? On my BlackBerry? My computer? My telephone? My street corner?" To which Mr. Cameron would probably say "Me and the police. Weren't you listening?"

And then there are these:

  • When anyone's speech is not free, no one's speech is free.
  • Censorship is not the path to civility. Only speech is.
  • Restricting speech cannot be done except in the context of free speech.
  • A tool used for good can be used for bad.
  • When debating public identity, one must decide what a public is.

To which I say: "If you have something to say, just say it."

In short, Jarvis knows nothing about the riots but knows that any interference with Twitter is a Bad Thing. And we should read his new book; the issues it tackles are full of, in a word that has gone viral among the digerati, "nuance".

Jeff Jarvis is backed up by Mathew Ingram, here and here. Ingram also does not know anything about the riots, but is also sure that the wrong thing to do is to interfere with Twitter because that "represents nothing less than an attack on the entire concept of freedom of speech, and that has some frightening consequences for any democracy." He does, thankfully, avoid telling us to read Jeff Jarvis's book.

Ingram claims that the mainstream media has covered the use of social media "hysterically", linking hilariously to The Sun as proof. Listen Mathew, The Sun could cover a Queen's Park question time hysterically.

While Jarvis stays away from saying anything at all about the riots, Ingram seems convinced that social media played a role in the riots because, well, because. He has no specific evidence, but will that stop our critic of hysterical coverage? It will not. "While they may not cause revolutions, there's no question that these kinds of mobile, real-time networks and technologies can help to fuel them when they occur" he writes, and then quotes Googler Jared Cohen's claim that "social media tools may not be a trigger for such events, but they can clearly act as 'an accelerant'". And in case you wondered, he goes on "It seems totalitarian states like Egypt and Libya aren't the only ones struggling with the impact of social media and the desire to muzzle services like Twitter and Facebook."

The message from both comes across loud and clear. The riots are a secondary story, what really matters is the ability of Twitter and Facebook to carry on their businesses. It's a silly message.

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  1. I don’t understand this post. By “a silly message” do you mean it’s tautology? Because other than various other calls to kill rioters, or kick them out of house and home, there have been calls to remove them from “social media”. I understand that saying “no, that’s dumb” is a simple thing to say, but it’s also important.
    When Anders Breivik mentioned casually (once) in his manifesto (of like a billion pages) that he likes playing video games to chill out, many were calling for the banning of the games in question. Apparently some video game stores pulled the games for a short while, “in respect”. Most video gaming websites trotted out the tedious, obvious, but correct arguments that if a dude talks about Christianity for 99% of a document, perhaps Christianity should also be in the firing line. Because it is not in question (the dude was insane), then neither should the effects of games be in question. They did mention that it was silly to even have to be saying these sorts of things, but they all felt the need to state it.
    It’s sad but I keep being reminded of the Sideshow Bob quote: “Your guilty consciences may force you to vote Democratic, but secretly you yearn for a cold-hearted Republican who’ll cut taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king!”

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