As the lights went out on state-run Libyan television, and rebel forces moved in on Colonel Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, yet again social media was the weapon of choice for the masses of Libyan citizens desperate both for information and to communicate with the outside world about events in their country.
Information control has traditionally been key to win the hearts and minds of a war-torn people undergoing liberation, that is nothing new. And media censorship is not a new concept to the Libyan people, used to life under the rule of a dictator. Yet, just as in Tunisia and neighbouring Egypt, the people of Libya turned to the internet, more specifically social media as they sought end years of brutal and tyranic rule. Twitter and messenger services helped inform the world’s media of events in Tripoli in a way not possible a decade ago.
And, in a month where the use of social media to mobilise rioters in London raised questions about the security of BlackBerry’s Messenger service and the battle of public privacy against national defence, it is clear that social media and its impact on society has reached dizzy new heights. The sheer force of social media, allowing one-to-many communication in real-time is a frightening prospect for many, including the British government who are likely to demand an inquiry into BMS in any inquiry into the riots. In India, repercussions from the Mumbai bombings continued, with the government there threatening to ban RIM’s BlackBerry service for not opening up its source code and protocols to security services.
And, whilst there are fears about terrorist groups and general criminals using social media to mobilise their organisations, we have to look at the many positives it has brought, such as freedom of speech, and how it has been a vehicle for democracy across the Middle East. There is a need for additional control and power for security forces to monitor suspects, however this should not stop the flow of information and debate which has made social media such a popular and powerful tool.