In the aftermath of the recent UK riots, fingers of blame pointed in various directions. Some clearly feel that ‘rioter-enabling technologies’ (social networks, SmartPhones, etc.) are in some way responsible for facilitating the rioting and believe that the appropriate way to deal with anti-social uses of social technologies is to give the police the means and the authority to take control of ‘our’(?) networks when it is deemed to be in the ‘our’(?) interest.
This doesn’t just apply to the 100,000 of us with MS. Add to our number the tens of millions of people who find it difficult to get around because of physical, emotional, mental, social, learning, vision, hearing and cognitive impairments, plus all those affected in one way or another by encroaching age and we’re talking about millions of people. Millions and millions, in fact.
For many (millions) of us, one political party’s ‘rioter-enabling technology’ is our lifeline: our social life, our comfort and our company. Break or restrict our access to it, even for a short amount of time, and for many of us the world really does come to an end. This is not the same as having a day away from Facebook because you’re convinced it’s distracting you from your real life. For an awful lot of people, online social networks truly are our only real life.
Privacy v self expression
From my soap box (PR, disabled person, technophile, former librarian), the gut feeling is ‘yes, they broke the law, social networks should cooperate with the police as fully as possible’. At the same time, however, the part of me that wants to strive for positive social change feels uncomfortable about saying it’s okay to stifle anyone’s right to express themselves. After all, didn’t what happened a couple of weeks ago happen in part because some (young?) people feel disenfranchised? Not listened to? Unable to express how they feel?
My malaise doesn’t stop there as I also feel caught in the headlights of the monster truck of unmet expectation that my generation – indeed my industry – has apparently created (through advertising, PR, etc.), and when I look to see who is behind the wheel my eyes are met by those of my children’s generation. And they are angry. Perhaps rightly so. Ignoring them, locking them up, taking away their means of expression doesn’t feel quite right unless we want what happen in August to happen again and again.
Some reports on the BBC, featured masked (and in some cases unmasked) teens telling us why they were looting (not rioting, looting, stealing). Although they may not have deployed the language of marketing I interpreted what they were saying as a very damning indictment of the (my) generation of marketers and PRs that work on behalf of companies that promote as desirable and achievable a lifestyle that is completely unrealistic an unattainable for most ordinary people.
Either we listen or we lose
Perhaps we can start to address both situations through the very simple act of listening more. Any online community moderator will tell you how many lessons they have learned through listening to the voices of community members. They’ll also undoubtedly tell you that banning people or otherwise trying to control anti-social behaviour by excluding the trouble-makers rarely works. People break rule often for complex reasons. If we banned them all, after a while there could be no community left.
If we were as good at facilitating the act of listening as we are at providing platforms for talking, maybe we could herald a new revolution that could bring about positive social change that has real meaning for disaffected kids, indeed, for anyone who feels disenfranchised from arguably the most connected society there has ever been.
Sometimes it takes a revolution.
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