"… in this disheartening traditional media landscape, we find encouraging signs of independent media—in the truest sense of the phrase …” : Nieman

The Freedom of Being Social

Whether it’s Egypt, the London riots or the Bay Area Rapid Transit system — even Google+ — the direction we’re heading feels dangerous.

Should the rise in social media use push the lines of freedom, expression, assembly and privacy one way or another, or erase them altogether? And if so, what are the circumstances involved?

Admittedly, it’s a difficult debate to wrestle. The following articles provide some fascinating thoughts to consider.

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Cell Phone Censorship in San Francisco? » The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) asked wireless providers to halt service in four stations in San Francisco to prevent protestors from communicating with each other. The action came after BART notified riders that there might be demonstrations in the city.

SEE ALSO: S.F. subway muzzles cell service during protest

SEE ALSO: BART pulls a Mubarak in San Francisco

Colorado Is Tracking Social Media Movements » Colorado’s Department of Public Safety is employing analysts at the Colorado Information Analysis Center to monitor sites like Twitter and Facebook with an eye to gleaning information about potentially disruptive events before they happen. By monitoring social media conversations in real time, the CDPS analysts hope to be able to identify emerging threats within minutes of the first discussion by online plotters — which should hopefully allow law enforcement to preempt, for example, apparently spontaneous outbursts of civil disorder.

SEE ALSO: Denver watching, preparing to protect against youth riots

NYPD forms new social media unit to mine Facebook and Twitter for mayhem  » The NYPD has formed a new unit to track troublemakers who announce plans or brag about their crimes on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. 

SEE ALSO: NYPD’s Social Media Unit will Track Criminals of Facebook, Twitter

Blaming the tools: Britain proposes a social-media ban » […] As author and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis has noted in his response to the British prime minister’s comments, democratic governments have to be very careful in making moves that curtail free speech, even if they think their motivation is justified. And as others have pointed out, Britain is already on what many believe is the wrong side of the freedom of speech issue in other ways — including its support for so-called “super-injunctions” that restrict the publication of certain information about court cases in that country, and in some cases have resulted in bans on using social media.

SEE ALSO: First, China. Next: The Great Firewall of… Australia

SEE ALSO: Update on the Australian Internet Filtering

Randi Zuckerberg Runs in the Wrong Direction on Pseudonymity Online » Speaking […] on a panel discussion about social media hosted by Marie Claire magazine, Randi Zuckerberg said,

I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away. People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.

Pseudonymity, Anonymity, And Accountability Online » […] now and then, pseudonymous or anonymous trolls cross the line by sending sexually explicit content or violent threats. This is when productive discourse stops and becomes sport and spectacle.

SEE ALSO: How the Internet Created an Age of Rage

The Growing Cowardice of Online Anonymity » Anonymous sources are of course among the newspaper reporter’s best friends, without whom the cause of informing the public would be severely set back. But anonymity is also a tremendous aid to the resentful, the scandalous and the cowardly, and the signs are that the tidal of wave of anonymous comment made possible by the Internet is getting even bigger. 

SEE ALSO: Use Your Real Name on Google+ or Get Minused Fast

Does Google+ Hate Women? » […] There are many, many resources that can explain to Google why adopting this policy is a stupid idea (aside from the obvious business advantage of not alienating early adopters and potential G+ evangelists). One of the best can be found at the Geek Feminism Wiki: The cost to these people {of denying pseudonym use} can be vast, including: 

  • harassment, both online and offline 
  • discrimination in employment, provision of services, etc. 
  • actual physical danger of bullying, hate crime, etc. 
  • arrest, imprisonment, or execution in some jurisdictions 
  • economic harm such as job loss, loss of professional reputation, etc. 
  • social costs of not being able to interact with friends and colleagues

SEE ALSO: The Future of Anonymous Activity Online

SEE ALSO: The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace

Facebook’s Secret Role in Egypt [The Daily Beast]

Facebook insists that all users, from Lady Gaga to Burmese dissidents, use their real names, which has obvious drawbacks for people agitating in repressive countries. The network’s terms of service are available in only seven languages (and not in Arabic), which breeds confusion. Regimes have used the terms of service against users, bringing down sensitive pages at key moments, such as the early stages of a protest push. A clever cyberthug can discover when a fan page is being run by a pseudonymous account, and send in a well-tailored complaint that forces the hand of Facebook’s automated servers.


Some analysts say Facebook has yet to come to grips with its new activist role. The ambiguity also has fueled suggestions that business interests in repressive countries—such as Syria, where Facebook recently regained access, or China, where it remains shut out—keep the company from embracing an activist image. Complaints that Facebook is unprepared—or perhaps unwilling—to take on an activist role has led some prominent human-rights advocates to encourage cyberdissidents to avoid it. “I would recommend that activists find another platform for their activity,” says Jillian York, of Global Voices. The still-disjointed chain of command, meanwhile, seems to indicate that Facebook is still in the process of figuring out its role at a sensitive time. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have designated executives to deal with human-rights concerns.


In Tunisia, for instance, “Ali,” an anonymous activist who runs a Facebook fan page called SBZ News—named after Sidi Bouzid, the city where that country’s uprising first took hold—had no NGO connections. But he ran, anonymously, the main Facebook page that was providing news of that country’s revolution. Every time his page would grow in its following, it would get knocked down by Facebook. He says this happened five times.

Ali was running the page under a pseudonym with a wary eye to Tunisia’s notorious cyberpolice. Though fan pages such as his and Ghonim’s don’t show the administrator, that information can be found out if the page is hacked. Which is exactly what happened in Tunisia—the government was able to phish passwords of Facebook users. … More » The Daily Beast