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Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

Social Media, for Good and for Evil

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Image by Mona - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was around this time last year that a popular uprising began in Tunisia, followed by unrest in Libya and Egypt, ultimately leading to the “Arab Spring” movement that resulted in the fall of decades-old Middle Eastern dictatorships.

Social media has received a lot of the credit for helping keep these movements going, of providing the oxygen to fuel the fires of revolution. But the Internet, the backbone upon which social media rests, also is being used by corporations and governments to oppress the people.

That’s the theme of author Rebecca MacKinnon’s new book, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom,” excerpted here at Slate.com. MacKinnon describes how Egyptian protesters used social media such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to keep each other and the world informed of their struggle.

But as the protesters began investigating the Egyptian state security apparatus, they discovered that their government had used the Internet and the latest surveillance equipment to monitor their e-mail, track down their friends and contacts via their social-media profiles, and follow their whereabouts and activities over time.

People all over the world face a similar threat, MacKinnon writes, as Hollywood studios attempt to use legislation like SOPA and PIPA to stifle innovation and force individuals to consume media the way Hollywood wants them to.

Similarly, Twitter announced last week that it would start censoring its own content on a country-by-country basis.

Imagine if that rule had been in place just a year ago. Imagine the Egyptian protesters, desperately tweeting eyewitness accounts of police brutality in Tahrir Square, while in a bunker somewhere in Cairo, a government official was requesting that Twitter censor all traffic coming into or out of Egypt.

Scary to imagine, but don’t be surprised if the next revolution fails because governments shut down the Internet, rendering social media a silent bystander to political repression.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

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Written by Charles Primm

January 31, 2012 at 9:04 pm

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