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Social media: can it hurt democracy too?

There has been much coverage of the role of social media in spreading democracy. But what dangers can social media pose when in the wrong hands? Can it be more effective against freedom than working for it?

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Social Media:

can it hurt democracy too?

President Obama's

2008 election campaign was seen

as a triumph

of social media for democracy.

Candidate Obama’s Facebook page

had 2 million friends.

The Obama 2008 campaign

was really a textbook case

of how to put social media

to work for political purposes.

Obama’s YouTube channel

attracted more than 18 million visits.

We saw this for example

in President Obama’s campaign,

that if you can mobilise many,

many people in very small amounts,

you can foment a very, very

big amount of money very quickly.

But can social media be as potent

when used

against freedom and democracy?

Every one is going through

a huge learning curve right now.

Well, certainly social

media tools can be used

in the pursuit of democracy,

but also regimes,

such as that of China,

monitor their content and can use

them for repressive ends as well.

Have governments

already used social media

to oppose more freedom?

Governments are going

to have this choice:

how do you stifle this type

of revolution, this type of change?

And one of the ways to do that is

to impose greater and greater tools

upon Internet traffic

to remove for example content,

to charge for content

so that people can’t afford it,

to erect firewalls

and essentially end up

killing the dissemination

of information

for the sake

of some short-term security.

I think that governments

in countries like Burma and China

and elsewhere, Zimbabwe,

are thinking very carefully

about trying to control these media.

What can governments do

to prevent social media

spreading information more freely?

There's two sides. People can identify

protesters using social media.

We saw that happen in Iran,

where they went

and looked at YouTube footage,

but I think that by the time

it reaches that critical boiling point

the autocracy usually is not aware,

has not been aware

of the conversations.

We’ve seen that in Iran,

where there were accusations

of Western firms providing technology

for deep-packet surveillance.

In other words,

going well into the data stream

and either catching data in progress.

So, for example, if you typed in

the SMS text ‘Let’s meet for protest’,

they would capture that text

and either delete it or alter it

so it sends you to another location.

So, the technology is out there.

Are attempts to block information

flows likely to be successful?

I think that we’ve seen a landmark

political change in the world

and there’s no going back.

And they will force governments

either to be more responsive

or more technologically repressive.

One might look at China and point

to China as the great example

of using Internet media to allow

communication but to also prevent it.

One has to look

at the flipside of the coin.

What’s the cost of attempting

to filter all this information?

Gigabits of information

on a daily basis.

And the estimates I have seen are

tens of thousands of state employs.

How long can that apparatus run?

As information becomes costless,

it becomes harder to make secret.

And we’ve seen that

on Wikileaks with the United States.

It merely takes

one individual exporting information

out of a secure environment

and then you see

that information

propagate across the Internet.

So governments are going to be

faced with a significant choice.

Do they continue to attempt

to classify information,

so will they attempt to increase

the cost for the public to access it,

or do they say: ‘Information

is not going to hurt people.’

And finally, is social media

the biggest Internet

threat for governments?

We talk about the vulnerability of

software, so we have virus protection.

We talk about

the vulnerability of services.

So we, for example, stand up a cyber

defence command or an equivalent.

We talk about hacktivism,

in terms of non-state actors.

We talk about all that,

but they are all talking

about the distribution

of ones and zeroes.

At the end of the day,

if I cut transatlantic cables,

if I destroy server farms physically,

then I have the same impact

as those software attacks.

And there’s only a limited

amount of cables out there.

Social Media:

can it hurt democracy too?

President Obama's

2008 election campaign was seen

as a triumph

of social media for democracy.

Candidate Obama’s Facebook page

had 2 million friends.

The Obama 2008 campaign

was really a textbook case

of how to put social media

to work for political purposes.

Obama’s YouTube channel

attracted more than 18 million visits.

We saw this for example

in President Obama’s campaign,

that if you can mobilise many,

many people in very small amounts,

you can foment a very, very

big amount of money very quickly.

But can social media be as potent

when used

against freedom and democracy?

Every one is going through

a huge learning curve right now.

Well, certainly social

media tools can be used

in the pursuit of democracy,

but also regimes,

such as that of China,

monitor their content and can use

them for repressive ends as well.

Have governments

already used social media

to oppose more freedom?

Governments are going

to have this choice:

how do you stifle this type

of revolution, this type of change?

And one of the ways to do that is

to impose greater and greater tools

upon Internet traffic

to remove for example content,

to charge for content

so that people can’t afford it,

to erect firewalls

and essentially end up

killing the dissemination

of information

for the sake

of some short-term security.

I think that governments

in countries like Burma and China

and elsewhere, Zimbabwe,

are thinking very carefully

about trying to control these media.

What can governments do

to prevent social media

spreading information more freely?

There's two sides. People can identify

protesters using social media.

We saw that happen in Iran,

where they went

and looked at YouTube footage,

but I think that by the time

it reaches that critical boiling point

the autocracy usually is not aware,

has not been aware

of the conversations.

We’ve seen that in Iran,

where there were accusations

of Western firms providing technology

for deep-packet surveillance.

In other words,

going well into the data stream

and either catching data in progress.

So, for example, if you typed in

the SMS text ‘Let’s meet for protest’,

they would capture that text

and either delete it or alter it

so it sends you to another location.

So, the technology is out there.

Are attempts to block information

flows likely to be successful?

I think that we’ve seen a landmark

political change in the world

and there’s no going back.

And they will force governments

either to be more responsive

or more technologically repressive.

One might look at China and point

to China as the great example

of using Internet media to allow

communication but to also prevent it.

One has to look

at the flipside of the coin.

What’s the cost of attempting

to filter all this information?

Gigabits of information

on a daily basis.

And the estimates I have seen are

tens of thousands of state employs.

How long can that apparatus run?

As information becomes costless,

it becomes harder to make secret.

And we’ve seen that

on Wikileaks with the United States.

It merely takes

one individual exporting information

out of a secure environment

and then you see

that information

propagate across the Internet.

So governments are going to be

faced with a significant choice.

Do they continue to attempt

to classify information,

so will they attempt to increase

the cost for the public to access it,

or do they say: ‘Information

is not going to hurt people.’

And finally, is social media

the biggest Internet

threat for governments?

We talk about the vulnerability of

software, so we have virus protection.

We talk about

the vulnerability of services.

So we, for example, stand up a cyber

defence command or an equivalent.

We talk about hacktivism,

in terms of non-state actors.

We talk about all that,

but they are all talking

about the distribution

of ones and zeroes.

At the end of the day,

if I cut transatlantic cables,

if I destroy server farms physically,

then I have the same impact

as those software attacks.

And there’s only a limited

amount of cables out there.

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