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The paradox in regulating social media

Dec 10,2018 - Last updated at Dec 10,2018

Communication advancement and social media, like many other technological advancements, are connected with new security challenges. There are two types of crimes connected with social media. One is civic crime, which ranges from bullying to harassment, stalking and defaming, which are criminalised acts. The other serious type of crime is terrorism, which does not need a special law to criminalise but rather the technical know-how to detect it. Detecting highly organised crimes requires the isolation of these criminal channels from the traffic of the social media.

Regulating social media will push millions of users to go for anonymous accounts. This will make anonymity a prevailing trend on the Internet, a matter that would provide a suitable medium for terrorists and serious criminals. In addition to that, the civil social dynamic as a tool to rationalise social media will deteriorate significantly and quickly.

The governmental capacity to control social media and minimise related serious crimes is inversely proportionate to the level of regulation. In fact, the more the government regulates social media, the less control it will have over it. In dealing with social media, more regulation is a sign of the incapability of the government to control these platforms. Recent experiences in several societies have proven that social media can be controlled through content and a value system, rather than punitive and disciplinary regulation. The rush to regulatory measures is a sign of lack of a substance and depth. This bankruptcy provokes social media and deepens the rupture between the ruling and the ruled.

However, unleashed social media could be harmful. The challenge is how to make social media an enriching opportunity. Failure to answer this question would amplify the negative aspect of social media. Conservatives deem the talk about controlling social media through content and values as void speech. Most of them think of political power as a way to give and take away, not lead and mobilise. Insisting on curbing social media through a disciplinary approach will turn the communication process into a tsunami behind a black curtain. Black curtains only block sight and prevent seeing the truth, but they do not change the facts or control natural dynamics.

Mobilising the power of reason in dealing with social media requires the full engagement of universities and the revitalisation of mass media, by transforming it from “news service providers” to “information provider”. To win the battle over content, the government, not the conservative component of the state polity, has to mobilise the potential of the many universities and mass media institutes for the sake of the mission.

To win the battle over values, state institutions must respect and totally adhere to the concept of information integrity. If the government compromises the quality of its information, it will be defeated on the moral front in the battle to rationalise social media. In fact, without replacing the controlling approach with one based on useful utilisation, the battle against social media is doomed to failure.

One of the arguments might be: Let us impose harsh regulations on social media and avoid paying the price of its freedom, and prepare, maybe for the coming 25 years, universities and mass media for the battle of content. This is self-deception on the part of conservatives that is based on wrong assumptions.

The first assumption is that the ruling groups can steer societies towards the future by remote control, or exclude them from this altogether. Second, they assume that universities and mass media will invest resources to wage the war of content after 30 years. The fact is that universities are prevented from joining this war, while the need for content might be the only opportunity for universities to regain their lost intellectual role. The third false assumption is that the people who are living in the cyberspace will surrender and that they will give up their misbehaviour. What can the government do if users start pushing their messages through anonymous, untraceable accounts, which is already technologically possible?

To sum up, the proper approach to handling social media in a useful way has two tracks: The first is engaging universities and mass media to start fighting the war of content. The second is to have in place a new governmental information policy that adheres to the truth, rather than misinformation and disinformation. It might be, too, unwise to think that we can get rid of the negative aspects of the social media without a well-designed strategy to utilise it in a positive way. This technology has two faces and the only way to avoid its negative aspects is to work hard to benefit from its advantages.


The writer is a political analyst. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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