After the London riots, Blackberry's messenger service was described as a key factor in fueling deviant behaviour among looters and rioters. Authorities argued that this private messaging service offered looters an avenue to orchestrate and coordinate, fueling deviant behaviour and providing an efficient means of rallying support. Most recently, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART), announced that it disabled signals to cellular devices at various stations to control/prevent planned protests. I'm all for maintaining law and order, but when did protesting or planning a demonstration become a crime, or an activity deemed to be monitored or controlled prior to execution?
Since freedom of assembly and freedom of speech go hand in hand, it is almost impossible to censor one without censoring the other. When groups are forbidden to peacefully demonstrate, we cease to be governed under a democracy. Freedom of assembly needs to be preserved because it is an avenue of participation in the political and socio-economic process, it fuels change, and it allows those affected to express their needs and opinions. Without the privilege of peaceful assembly, would there be a Civil Rights Movement, or a Feminist Movement? Without the privilege of peaceful assembly, would we know the extent of the outrage when Rodney King was the victim of police brutality, when youths took to the streets in Lyon, France, or when demonstrators in Antigua congregated against what they thought to be ineffective government policy?
Oftentimes, demonstrations start out peacefully but may end in violence. However, that's a risk that comes with the territory, and that's when law enforcement should be summoned to maintain peace and order, not prior. In addition, attempts to censor might be counterproductive. According to newsmax.com, after BART blocked cell phone service, hackers hijacked the subscriber database and compromised account information, including names, physical addresses and phone numbers. Newsmax.com also explained that hackers later stated that, BART has proved multiple times that they have no problem exploiting and abusing the people. This is quite ironic, since hacking and posting information of innocent third-parties is, in effect, abusing and exploiting the people. Confirmation that innocent third-parties often fall victim to regardless of the means of protest.
Even though BART was able to prevent communication via social media by blocking signals, it didn't prevent anyone from protesting; it didn't prevent anyone from expressing their point of view. It simply created another problem by aggravating another group of individuals. The ability to physically assemble might not have occurred, but there was protest nonetheless, in the form of a cyber attack. This is just as disturbing as anticipation of violence of a physical nature. Though a minor attack, it could have been worse.
Trying to control what might go wrong during a demonstration, has infringed on the rights and privileges of others. Trying to control the desire to assemble and protest by preventing communication through social media and instant message is unacceptable and unfair. Groups of people have been congregating and demonstrating for many years, because of bad social and political policy and unfair treatment, long before Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry. Social media is just another form of communication, not the problem.
Photo Credit To American Elephants
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Ebonie Jones is a freelance contributor to MNI Alive