Should Rioting Lead to Twitter Blocks

Should Rioting Lead to Twitter Blocks

Twitter is a way to communicate and broadcast with millions, it can be a useful medium for the public to gain vital updates. There are several twitter communities such as @SavingLivesUK that Educate the public about HIV Aids, challenge stigma, encouraging testing and ultimately save lives. The twitter alert feature has proven to be invaluable to the general public, as it sends reliable information from a credible source in times of emergency. Whenever an alert is made, those signed up to the free service will receive a notification directly to their phone. Tweets could be about large scale evacuations, major flooding, or chemical emergencies. The alerts feature builds upon and gives enhanced visibility to some of the best practices during a crisis, which many government and emergency responders have already demonstrated. [1]

Twitter Bird

In a press release on the Cleveland Police website, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Spittal said: “Social media has completely changed the landscape of how we engage with the public and has become a crucial tool in major incidents – we can pass information immediately, react to rumour and speculation and engage with people on the ground. Twitter Alerts could potentially save lives by giving real time updates about how people can keep themselves and their families safe in an emergency.“ [2]

The benefit of Twitter outweighs the harms, if any. So in my opinion Twitter shouldn’t be blocked, but if necessary clever moderation should be put in place. Twitter said it has introduced new technology so it can censor messages, or tweets, on a country-by-country basis. [3] This seems like a better approach as compared to outright censorship of tweets.

The government should embrace social media rather than view social media negatively; it needs to be treated without compromising freedom of speech. It is unreasonable for the government to react by blocking twitter, when riots take place or block any other social media, especially when they have very little evidence on hand. The Guardian compiled a unique database of more than 2.5m tweets related to the riots, showing that the majority of surging social media traffic occurred “after” the first verified reports of incidents in an area. [4] This proves that twitter was not used for instigating riots in the UK.

It is also important to appreciate that peaceful protests can cross the line into rioting; Understanding the psychology and motivation of riot participants can help cities prevent peaceful protesting from escalating to violent destructive rioting. In theory the government can very easily block everything but it is clear that this will be taking away fundamental rights from the general public, blocking these important communication channels would be a serious human right violations committed in the context of peaceful protest. If twitter or social media is blocked as result of peaceful protests it may push protestors further to their personal limits by expressing their grievances by rioting. [5] Governments considering shutting social networks down to prevent their use by rioters should be aware that precisely this action by the Egyptian government was what turned a 20,000 activist protest into a 2 million public one.

The government may find it impossible to block out twitter entirely unless they decide to blackout internet. During recent events in Egypt Twitter was blocked but it wasn’t hard to get around the block as The twitter has multiple IP addresses, not all of which are blocked by government censors. Egyptian web users can access one of these addresses without using the site’s domain name at all. Another easy workaround is to use a virtual private network, or VPN, which fools the system into thinking you’re outside Egypt. [6]

Tor Stats

London riots should not lead to the UK government blocking social networks, according to the committee appointed by the House of Commons, social networks such as Blackberry Messenger and Facebook were used to incite criminal behaviour. In practice, social media that easily enable the exchange of encrypted messages, as BlackBerry Messenger does, are more likely to be used by those with serious criminal intent than unencrypted networks such as Twitter. [7]

Stephen Bates, the UK and Ireland Managing Director at RIM told “There is no dispute that social media was used for malicious purposes.” Richard Allan, from Facebook, said that Facebook had found “a handful of cases” in which Facebook had been used to incite disturbances. There have been a small number of prosecutions of people who used Facebook to incite disorder.” [7]

When Alexander Macgillivray from Twitter, was asked whether it was clear that Twitter had been used to incite disorder, he replied: “We haven’t seen that, at least I have not seen it yet in this particular case. There are a bunch of different organizations looking at the public tweets. One of the advantages of our network is that, of course, it is public so people can look and examine and tell us more than we would know about what is going on”. The committee later also commended the police forces that used social media during the riots to spread messages to inform and reassure the public. In its final report the committee recommended that all forces make used of these media, both at times when unusual incidents are taking place and on an everyday basis. [7]

Enter Turkey,

on 21st March 2014, Turkish authorities blocked access to Twitter in the country. The Turkish Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) restricted access to Twitter only hours after Prime Minister Erdogan stated his desire to “Kill Twitter”. The blocking of Twitter was justified by the TİB on the basis of four court orders where the action was said to be a “protective measure”. [8]
Turkey

The freedom to communicate & network is a fundamental right and this complete censorship violates international standards for free expression and the government must unblock twitter immediately, the office of the United Nations Human Rights clearly states, describing “a global network to exchange ideas and opinions that does not necessarily rely on the traditional mass media”, the Committee says “States parties should take all necessary steps to foster the independence of these new media and to ensure access”. [9]

Any restrictions that might be applied to websites, blogs or any other internet-based networks or support systems should be limited, the Committee says, to content only and should not be applied to entire sites and systems. [9] Twitter ban has failed to work and users in the country have started using VPN’s and a service called Tor which allows them to access twitter despite the censorship. Twitter has exploded with activity in turkey with connections nearly doubling from around 25,000 direct connects in the country to over 40,000, according the anonymous browsing tool’s internal metrics. [10]

The blocking of social networks, of the internet, or of mobile phone networks in times of riot would be an illegitimate curtailment of a private company’s right to do business and serve its customers. Social networks are business and have many users. Even more important is the impact on everyone who is not associated with the rioting. When these actions are taken it harms everyone, perhaps even millions of people at a given time.[11]The action taken by the state to seek to prevent the spreading of the riots is not only ineffective it is also a massive imposition on the rights of the citizens of the polity. Their freedom of speech is curtailed, business is harmed, and the riots continue. Studies of the use of Twitter during the riots in London showed that during rioting it was mostly used to react to the riots to send warnings to avoid trouble rather than incite violence.[12] Blocking access or cutting off communications would therefore mean putting at risk those people who otherwise would have been warned not to go near areas with rioting.

The government suppressing legitimate demonstrations, whether they do it with physical force or internet repression, ultimately serves only to push away the problem, to continue to ignore it. [13] Blocking social networks therefore only seeks to muzzle the expression of outrage that is sometimes entirely justified. The media attention and organizing power of social networks serves to get people engaged, motivated, and visible. The government should not seek to stop that. They should seek to prevent protest and demonstration from spilling into violence. Blocking access to social networks will not aid in that endeavour.

If we take the British Code of Conduct into consideration blocking twitter in the UK would violate public interest, especially interest of people who seek Security and well-being of others. [14] Twitter computer professionals or people working for twitter need to respect the legitimate rights the public, however there could be challenges or issues twitter computer professionals may face from an international context, as they should be aware of, and understand, the requirements of law specific to the jurisdiction within which they are working, and, where relevant, to supranational legislation such as EU law and regulation. This could be complex to understand and thus as previously recommended by the British Computer Society (BCS) computer professionals should seek specialist advice when necessary. [15]

In a tweet last year the outgoing CEO announced a figure of 15Millon twitter users [16] and per recent statistics more than 59% of people on twitter use the platform to follow news brands. [17] This is clear evidence that twitter is being used as mass media and blocking twitter will violate freedom of expression and the right to access information. We also saw examples of citizen journalism: e.g. Leon Piers, 21 year old in Bristol – who covered riots by cycle & twitter “A guy on a bike with a group of friends, dotted around Bristol, bringing only “Confirmed” riot news & updates so that public can stay safe”. [18] Social Communities and Emergency Services will not be able to carry out their services related to Twitter Alerts if twitter is blocked; all this puts the general public in danger.

Twitter Stats

Ethical Analysis: Should the government consider a social network crackdown in times of unrest? My analysis and research indicates a clear no. When we apply the first categorical imperative to the UK riots case, the maxim that the government’s action would be based on “Block Social Media” and the rule you’d get from that is “We should block all social media activity.” However, if every government in the world decided to block social media whenever there was unrest, it will violate freedom of speech; it will take away the security and well-being of the general public who depend on twitter alerts and citizen journalism.

Blocking twitter also deprives the general public from the benefits of twitter. So from a Kantian point of view using the second formulation of the categorical imperative, if twitter was to be blocked during times unrest it would be at the cost of public information and safety. Therefore, as per Kantianism we would say that it would be unethical for the government to consider a social media network crackdown during unrest.

Using the utilitarian approach I have identified the stakeholders in a particular situation as well as the alternative actions and their consequences (Harms and/or benefits) for each [19]. I have also identified and evaluated each stakeholder as 1. General Public, 2. Troublemakers, 3. Government & 4. Twitter. I have used the hedonic/ utilitarian calculus (inspired by the algorithm formulated by philosopher Jeremy Bentham) to assess Edward Snowden’s action. After evaluating all stakeholders individually and collectively the final score of 82/237 is in favour of not blocking twitter.
Hedonic

Finally, I would like to say that access to the Internet should be considered a basic human right and freedom of expression should be guaranteed; the internet should be governed in some form to protect the community from harm but it is important that this is done amicably, taking into account all aspects of public interest.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

[1] Introducing Twitter Alerts, Wednesday, September 25, 2013 | By Bridget Coyne (@bcoyne), Partner Manager, Government & Politics [16:54 UTC]. Source: https://blog.twitter.com/2013/introducing-twitter-alerts

[2] Press Release: http://www.cleveland.police.uk/news/releases/release15827.aspx, date: 21/11/2013

[3]The impact of Twitter’s censorship, Inside Story Last Modified: 29 Jan 2012 13:59, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2012/01/2012128131255440278.html

[4] Twitter traffic during riots: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/interactive/2011/aug/24/riots-twitter-traffic-interactive

[5]How Riots Behave Like Forest Fires. ,http://news.discovery.com/human/london-riots-psychology-pattern-wildfires-110810.htm. Aug 10, 2011 03:00 AM ET

 

[6]FP Explainer “Can Governments Really ‘Block’ Twitter?” By Joshua E. Keating January 26, 2011, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/26/can_governments_really_block_twitter

 

[7] Policing Large Scale Disorder: Lessons from the disturbances of August 2011, Page 31. Source: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/home-affairs/HC%201456-I%20Final%20Report.pdf

 

[8] Press release, Turkey: Blanket blocking of Twitter is a serious violation of the right to free speech. 21 Mar 2014
http://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/37498/en/turkey:–blanket-blocking-of-twitter-is-a-serious-violation-of-the-right-to-free-speech#sthash.KFvqcQfO.dpuf

[9] Freedom of expression and new media, UN Human Rights Committee, Date: 1 September 2011. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/FreedomExpressionandnewmedia.aspx

[10] Tor usage in Turkey surges during Twitter ban, By Andrea Peterson, March 24 at 9:30 am. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/03/24/tor-usage-in-turkey-surges-during-twitter-ban/

[11] Temperton, J. “Blocking Facebook and Twitter During Riots Threatens Freedom”. Computer Active. 15 August 2011. http://www.computeractive.co.uk/ca/news/2101952/blocking-facebook-twitter-riots-threatens-freedom

[12] Ball, J., and Lewis, P., “Riots database of 2.5m tweets reveals complex picture of interaction”, The Guardian, 24 August 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/24/riots-database-twitter-interaction

[13] Dugan, L. “Blocking Twitter During Riots a Bad Idea, Study Proves”. Media Bistro. 2011. http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/blocking-twitter-during-riots-a-bad-idea-study-proves_b13091

[14] BCS Code of Conduct – http://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/conduct.pdf

[15] Old Code of Conduct http://cgi.csc.liv.ac.uk/~comp39x/2013-14/guides/BCS_CoC.pdf

[16] Tweet by Tony Wang, https://twitter.com/TonyW/status/375889809153462272. @TonyW

[17] Majority of 15m Twitter users in the UK follow a newspaper. By Arif Durrani, campaignlive.co.uk, Tuesday, 04 March 2014 06:00PM. http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/news/1283696/newsonthetweet-majority-15m-twitter-users-uk-follow-newspaper/

[18] Digital Demo(cracy)http://greenormal.blogspot.co.uk/. Posted by John Grant at 05:45

[19] Twitter Usage Info-graphic – http://wordpress.mediatel.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/News-on-the-Tweet.jpg

[20] Treviño and Nelson textbook, Chapter 2, p. 40.

 

Ethical analysis on Edward Snowden

Categorical Imperative: First Formulation
When we apply the first categorical imperative to the Edward Snowden case. The maxim that his action was based on would be “Release Classified Government Information” and the rule you’d get from that is “You Should Release Classified Government Information.” However, if every individual in the world released confidential government information, the whole concept of “confidential” government information would simply disappear. So as per Kantianism we would say that we have a perfect moral duty not to do what Snowden did.

Categorical Imperative: Second Formulation
Snowden treated Booz Allen Inc. as a means to an end. He deceived his employer with the goal of exposing confidential data. It was wrong for Snowden to steal classified information using Booz Allen Inc. systems, infrastructure an the trust bestowed upon him by his colleagues and seniors. So from a Kantian point of view Snowden’s actions were not moral. However, as Kantianism is strongly against using people as a means to an end, which is clearly what the US government was/is doing. A Kantian wouldn’t approve of Snowden’s actions, but he wouldn’t have been too happy with the government(s) either.

12224127613_04a1461abd_o
Image source:http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7404/12224127613_04a1461abd_o.jpg

A utilitarian would approach an ethical dilemma by systematically identifying the stakeholders in a particular situation as well as a the alternative actions and their consequences (Harms and/or benefits) for each [3]. Keeping this in mind I have identified and evaluated each stakeholders identified and listed below..

I have used the hedonic/ utilitarian calculus (inspired by the algorithm formulated by philosopher Jeremy Bentham) to assess Edward Snowden’s action. I have slightly modified the following questions to assess all seven attributes (circumstances) to make it specific to the Snowden case. After evaluating all stakeholders individually and collectively the final score of 165/95 was in favour of whistleblowing, I have listed stakeholders below for reference.

StakeholdersHedonic

1. Edward Snowden

2. U. S. Military troops who are especially vulnerable to attacks given disclosure of top-secret information.

3. Terrorists groups within the U. S. and abroad.

4. World citizens who Snowden revealed to have been subject to secret surveillance by National Security Association.

Edward Snowden Score: 58/19  (in favour of whistleblowing)

Intensity: How high will the pleasure be for Edward Snowden?
Duration: How long will the pleasure last for Edward Snowden?
Certainty: How certain will be the pleasure be for Edward Snowden?
Near (Propinquity): How near in place and time is that pleasure going to be?
Fecund: How much more pleasure will grow out/result out of this?
Purity: How free from pain is this pleasure going to be for Edward Snowden?
Extend: How many more people will receive pleasure/ happiness from the whistleblowing?

US Military Troops (US Govt.) Score: 6/60 (not in favour of whistleblowing)

Intensity: How high will the benefit be for the US Government?
Duration: How long will the benefit last for the US Government?
Certainty: How certain will be the benefit be for the US Government?
Near (Propinquity): How near in place and time is that benefit going to be?
Fecund: How much more benefit will grow out/result out of this?
Purity: How free from pain is this pleasure going to be for the US government?
Extend: How many more people will receive benefit from the whistleblowing?

Terrorists groups within the U. S. and abroad Score: 52/3 (in favour of whistleblowing)

Intensity: How high will the benefit be for the Terrorists?
Duration: How long will the benefit last for the Terrorists?
Certainty: How certain will be the benefit be for the Terrorists?
Near (Propinquity): How near in place and time is that benefit going to be?
Fecund: How much more benefit will grow out/result out of this?
Purity: How free from pain is this pleasure going to be for the Terrorists?
Extend: How many more people will receive benefit from the whistleblowing?

World citizens Score: 49/14 (in favour of whistleblowing)

Intensity: How high will the benefit be for the World Citizens?
Duration: How long will the benefit last for the World Citizens?
Certainty: How certain will be the benefit be for the World Citizens?
Near (Propinquity): How near in place and time is that benefit going to be?
Fecund: How much more benefit will grow out/result out of this?
Purity: How free from pain is this pleasure going to be for the World Citizens?
Extend: How many more people will receive benefit from the whistleblowing?

[3] Treviño and Nelson textbook, Chapter 2, p. 40.