first amendment
flash mob
free speech
Social media
August 18, 2011

Protesters and Technology

Transit authorities in San Francisco recently cut cell service to stop a protest.

Shelby: Riots in London. Violent flash mobs in Philadelphia. Public transportation protests in San Francisco. Usually started by young people and all organized through technology. Cell phones and internet sites have made it easier for users to unite. Like helping demonstrators in Cairo link up to overthrow a dictator in a fight for freedom.

But while social media, like Facebook and Twitter, can be useful tools, protesters around the world have proven that they can also lead to violence. In London, looters used text messages to identify new targets. And in Philadelphia, gangs used text messaging to quickly organize into so-called ‘flash mobs’ that have preyed on downtown businesses.

“We are kind of scarred with the whole flash mob. Everyone, the city and South Street as well, is kind of walking around where… People are afraid to come here.”

Shelby: Apparently, out of nowhere crowds suddenly appear and run wild. Social media seem to have become anti-social media.

Now governments from Egypt to England are facing the challenges that come with the growth of social networks and instant messaging, asking the question, should they cut off cell phone service and internet access to crack down on protests? There has already been a crackdown in London, where two young people were jailed for trying to incite riots using Facebook. And in San Francisco, officials turned off cell phone service at four public transportation stations because they feared there would be a disruptive, and possibly unsafe, demonstration. Now the decision is drawing a lot of fire. Some say it is a matter of safety.

“It’d be the equivalent of people to start protesting on an airplane while you’re in flight.”

Shelby: On the platform, your free speech rights are subservient to your right, your constitutional rights, to safety. But others argue it is a violation of free speech. If the First Amendment means anything, it is that the government should not be shutting down the free flow of information.

Some critics say the cell phone shut down in San Francisco is similar to attempts by dictators in the Middle East to block social media and keep important messages from the people.

Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.


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