Government Crack Down on peace, goodwill and social media

Social media platforms, like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have made everyone a publisher. With nothing more than a smart phone, people are able to share news, photographs and video. This new level of freedom of communication has been causing concerns for those who wish to control the media, the message and the mob. Orwell’s Big Brother is none too happy.

Today’s totalitarian state is not the fictional Oceania, but rather places we already have on the radar over concerned with democracy, human rights and human dignity.  Twitter made headlines in June last year when the US State Department asked the company to delay a scheduled down time. The delay was requested in the name of democracy to prevent interference with the organising ability of Iranians protesting against elections widely held to be corrupt.

In the lead up to those elections, Iranian authorities banned Facebook, then reinstated it after Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a former vice president of Iran, noted that, “Facebook is one of the only independent sources that the Iranian youth could use to communicate”. He said without it, people would be “forced to rely on government sources”. Perhaps the Iranian regime felt exposed by such comments?

Skip forward 15 months and Iran has a new strategy. Shown on Iranian TV (now on YouTube with subtitles) is a news bulletin explaining why Facebook and Twitter are evil. Complete with spooky music, the clip informs views that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is a Jew but doesn’t believe in God. If that didn’t convince you Facebook was evil, it goes on to say Facebook was created to source operatives for western intelligence organisations. To prove this it cuts to a silhouette of a man described as a Facebook user. Our mystery man says he has worked for Facebook for 18 months, and for spy agencies. He claims to reads information on Facebook and then sell it to these spy agencies.  He claims to be doing it for the great money involved.

Soon we have another silhouette. This one claims twitter asked him to share his conversations with them so the data might be used by intelligence agencies. The section ends with a warning that social media sites are the hidden enemy. Next we have a claim that “Facebook is an Israeli spying website“. This is supported by a mocked up front page of the Independent Newspaper. The clip ends with claims of propaganda, psychological warfare and an anti-Iranian network that includes social media and the BBC and aims to change the Iranian people’s culture and faith. This “subtle” attack aims to deter use of a medium of self expression the regime is finding impossible to control.

Iran is not alone. Recently Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population in the world, joined the attack on social media. The trouble this time is a Facebook page seeking to create warmer relations between Israel and Indonesia. The page bills itself as a virtual embassy of Israel to Indonesia. It says it is for people who are friends of both countries, and so far there are over 56 thousand fans, most of them in Indonesia. The page expresses a wish that real embassies can soon be built and diplomatic relations established. Not if the Indonesian government gets its way.

Al Muzammil Yusuf, a member of the Indonesian parliament’s Commission on Defense, foreign affairs and information, said the Ministry of Communications and Information would take action over the page under its oversight authority for the use of technology. He also called for an investigation to find who initiated the page. It’s starting to sound just a little like the Iranian regime’s witch hunt which led to imprisonments, injuries and killings.

Indonesia is listed amongst the free nations of the world by the highly respected NGO Freedom House.  Such a move against good will, cooperation, and self expression by Indonesia would be shocking given their freedom status is the same as that of Australia or Canada. Then again, in Australia or Canada it’s unlikely the Communication and Information Minister would be causing a stir by using twitter to share Adolf Hitler quotes. That’s this week’s other Indonesian technology story.

Social media, if properly managed, poses a real threat to those working against peace, truth and good will amongst peoples. The management however needs to be based on ethical principles. Governments do have rights in this process and international laws, standards and policies should be considered. Companies like Facebook need to establish relations with governments outside the USA, learn from the experience of others, and chart a course that is good not only for their bottom line but for humanity. With social media comes social responsibility, both for users and for platform owners.

Dr Andre Oboler is social media expert. He is based in Australia and runs the Community Internet Engagement Project.

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