Banning Discourse: The Futility of Fighting Social Media
A leading media blog has a message for businesses, schools, and governments that try to crack down on social media usage - if you can't fight it, join it.
Greg Ferenstein of industry-pacing social media blog Mashable takes a hard look at why banning access to social media sites often backfires. "Humans have a natural proclivity to want what they cannot have," he explains. "Our insatiable appetite for sharing information, combined with the nearly limitless ways to access the web have thus far frustrated the most sophisticated attempts to block access to social media services."
One example of a failed attempt to lock down on Internet usage comes from a British study, The Safe Use of New Technologies. Conducted by the British Department of Education, the study found that schools which were "locked down" - or fully restrictive of access to sites like Facebook and Twitter - actually diminished the overall Internet safety of their students. "Although the... schools which used 'locked down' systems kept their pupils safe while in school," the study explains, "such systems were less effective in helping them to learn how to use new technologies safely. These pupils were therefore more vulnerable overall. This was a particular concern when pupils were educated away from their main
school, for example, in work-based learning."
Ferenstein also points out that schools which opt to restrict Internet access miss an opportunity to educate students about internet safety, resulting in students cobbling together their views of appropriate internet safety from media like the show Gossip Girl and peers who may have their own hidden motivations for their guidance.
Even governments that seek to limit what people can talk about on social media face some challenges - not the least of which being social media's explosive popularity. Innovative research group Netpop recently published a study claiming that 92 percent of Internet users in China use social media sites, as opposed to a comparatively paltry 76 percent of United States Internet users. This ubiquity of social media in China happens in the face of measures taken by the Chinese government to regulate internet usage, such as the requirement of all computers to come equipped with Green Dam censoring software and a list of words and phrases banned from use.
China will face even more trouble as companies like Google refuse to tow the line, effectively undermining their security measures with the approval of the international community. This lack of international community support will only become a larger issue as mobile media access through things like smart phones and reader devices become a primary means that people connect online. Analysts at respected firm Morgan Stanley recently published a study which claims, amongst other eyebrow-raising projections, that by 2015 users will interact more with the Internet via their mobile phones than via their desktop computers! As users switch over to this new form of connectedness, filters like Green Damn become less and less effective - and enable more citizens to crowdsource breaking news to the international media a la Iran.
"Restricting access to information is fighting the force of a global movement towards greater participation," explains Greg Ferenstein. "Organizations that choose to block social media with an iron fist should plan to expend significant resources to enforce these rules." Ferenstein has a great point - making rules that will invariably be bent and broken may not be the best expenditure for a business, a school, or a government. Instead, an attitude of education and engagement - coupled with a tacit admission that secrecy is not what it used to be - may be the only means to ride the social media wave in the modern era.
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