Censorship

Think Tank

Big Idea for 2012: Taming the Wild West that is the World Wide Web

What's the Big Idea?

A lot has been made of the fact that tools like Facebook and Twitter aided the uprisings known as the Arab Spring, which was one of the biggest stories of 2011. Now government push back to social media is growing, and promises to be a big story in 2012.

Take Somalia, where the barbaric, yet technologically savvy group called the Shabab have "imposed a draconian version of Islam" that involves, according to The New York Times, "yanking out gold teeth, beheading shopkeepers, sawing off arms and stoning adulterers." This group's Twitter account -- which features tweets that are mostly in English -- has 4,600 followers. U.S. officials worry the account is targeting potential recruits in the U.S. Already several Americans have blown themselves up as suicide bombers in Somalia, and the worry is that others could be trained in Somalia and then return to America to commit acts of violence.

While the U.S. government has been mum about exactly what it might do, officials told the Times they are "exploring legal options to shut down the Shabab’s new Twitter account, potentially opening a debate over the line between free speech and support for terrorism."

Over in India, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal has caused a stir by suggesting the Indian government take action in response to the inaction of companies like Facebook to stem derogatory material such as "offensive religious content that could cause ethnic or inter-communal conflict," according to NPR.

Next, consider the recent effort in the U.S. to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was written to protect intellectual property but which critics charge amounts to online censorship.  

What's the Significance?

If 2010 was the year of Wikileaks, and 2011 was the year of the Twitter Revolutions, will the pendulum swing back in 2012? As outlined above, efforts are in place to curb perceived abuses, whether it is online privacy, cyber-bullying, or acts with potentially catastrophic outcomes, including terrorism.

If certain interventions are necessary, the question is how far should they go. This debate is not a new one. One side of the argument is this: what is the security cost of living in a free society? The other side of the argument is this: how far are we willing to bend our online freedoms in order to prohibit the worst behavior? While we have had this debate before, what is changing is the context. Have the unbridled freedoms of the Web made life in the 21st century too dangerous? Can we afford to continue on the same course? What are the necessary protections that must be put in place?

What do you think? And what do you think will be the most significant idea for 2012?

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