The story concerning the man who joked on Twitter and subsequently found himself under arrest caught my eye yesterday, particularly after the story a couple of months ago involving the US police officer who ordered a showbiz agent to send a tweet.
This latest incident highlighted the consequences of microblogging – not to the masses, but to a modest group of followers. More importantly, it raises many questions regarding free speech. In the case of the Doncaster tweeter, someone on Twitter apparently alerted the ‘authorities’ who turned up on his doorstep, presented him with a print out of his tweet and hauled him in for questioning.
If you have been involved in social media for any length of time, then individuals taking umbrage with something written or said is not uncommon. Often it goes under the heading ‘healthy debate’, sometimes it is just the action of a bored or malicious troll, but, whatever it turns out to be, such incidents have always been part of this eco-system.
I just wonder though, how far this type of ‘informing’ might go in the future. Does it mean that if someone doesn’t like your point of view, is completely paranoid or just up to mischief they will alert the Thought Police who will come and take you away? Should anyone be arrested on the strength of a single tweet?
And how will the shiny new cyber security agencies put such information to use? President Obama appointed his cyber security chief last May, Australia opened the doors to their cyber security operations centre earlier today – indeed, the need to be alert to cyber security was something we talked about here quite some time ago and there is no question that it is something to be taken seriously. But surely some discernment is required in the process? If not, I can see prison cells around the globe filling up with people who have vented their spleen in their status updates while those who are a real threat – and wise to the nature of social media – go about their evil business unchecked.
What happens when governments decide they don’t want to see criticism of their policies, actions and decisions broadcast widely and in a particular way? Will they police the language we use? Censorship by acceptable and previously authorised epithet? Or someone with a grudge hacks an account (corporate or individual) in order to post an incriminating status update?
From the individual’s perspective, the microblog – particularly Twitter – gives instant access to brands, organisations and leaders, proving ideal for venting frustrations in order to achieve a response when previously, none was to be had. In the case of Doncaster Man, I don’t think he was expecting a response, simply having a vent, blissfully unaware of the consequences. Nobody wanting to complete an air journey these days would dare to make such a remark while they were physically at the airport. But elsewhere? To an individual’s own circle?
I think it is a significant development as far as curtailing an individual’s ability to state what’s on their mind – as significant as the cyber-spies Google hack. Somehow, both extremes need defending if the whole thing isn’t going to kilter completely out of balance and both incidents have considerable implications for practitioners. I would be very keen to know what you think.