openDemocracyUK

Cameron's response to the riots: Beijing says 'thanks'

Zhang Xiang
12 August 2011

BEIJING, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- Following days of violent riots in Britain, speculation has grown as to why and how the trouble spread so rapidly.

Apparently the rioters used social media, like Twitter, Facebook and the Blackberry messenger system and Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday he's looking at banning potential troublemakers from using the online services.

The British government, once an ardent advocate of absolute Internet freedom, has thus made a U-turn over its stance towards web-monitoring.

Communication tools such as Facebook and cellphones also played a delicate role in the massive social upheaval earlier this year in north Africa and neighboring west Asian countries, whose governments then imposed targeted censorship over message flows on the Internet.

In a speech delivered in Kuwait in February, the British prime minister, however, argued that freedom of expression should be respected "in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square."

Learning a hard lesson from bitter experience, the British government eventually recognized that a balance needs to be struck between freedom and the monitoring of social media tools.

Cameron himself admitted that the "free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill."

"And when people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them," he told lawmakers Thursday.

We may wonder why western leaders, on the one hand, tend to indiscriminately accuse other nations of monitoring, but on the other take for granted their steps to monitor and control the Internet.

They are not interested in learning what content those nations are monitoring, let alone their varied national conditions or their different development stages.

Laying undue emphasis on Internet freedom, the western leaders become prejudiced against those "other than us," stand ready to put them in the dock and attempt to stir up their internal conflicts.

With no previous practice, the world is still exploring effective solutions to Internet monitoring.

"Technology has no morality," observed Emma Duncan, deputy editor of The Economist.

And the Internet is also a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. For the benefit of the general public, proper web-monitoring is legitimate and necessary.

Cross posted from Xinhuanet News.

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