This morning when I did my daily read through the world of startups, social media, news, etc… something struck me. It’s rare that the worlds of international politics and social media overlap, but today is one of those times. In Egypt the government has used tear gas and fire hoses to break up protests throughout the capital (CNN). These are looked at as atrocities by nearly anyone, but what has been covered less is the fact that the government has also begun limiting Twitter and Facebook (TechCrunch). The argument for this social media ban is no doubt to avoid the organizing of further protests, which one could argue leads to higher public safety.
I’m here to call bullshit. We need to stop looking at social media as something that occasionally leads to flash mobs and protests in the “real” world and start looking at it as what it is, the modernization of speech. As such, it should be just as protected as free speech. In fact, it should be afforded special protection in much the same way a Free Press is afforded this protection. Social media is no longer a novelty, it is used to decide important issues. In the world of technology (where social adoption is more mainstream) we pick our leaders through social media. Do you think Michael Arrington or Fred Wilson or even Paul Graham would have their positions of influence in our community without social media? We use social media to crown our celebrities, to rate new products, to protest and raise awareness of injustices both consumer (think of the iPhone 4 reaction resulting in free cases to fix a problem) and political (the Startup Visa). As adoption of social media becomes more universal, these powers from social media will be leveraged by more and more of the population.
This means that taking social media from people will result in reducing the efficiency with which people can communicate. Reducing their ability to make the decisions that will shape the future. Violating their right to a future that is all that it can be. America, the very seed of democracy, can be a leader in this. I would push for an amendment to the constitution guaranteeing this freedom (just as the freedom of the press is guaranteed). At the very least some case law from the supreme court showing clear protection under free speech. If we have a chance, there should also be codes in the UN enforceable by sanctions. The importance of getting this right early, is critical to our maturity as a species.