Legislation to Criminalize Social Media Sites
Written by Faith Anderson on August 24, 2011
Cleveland Mayor Calls Proposed Legislation “Unconstitutional”
Jackson defends his decision to veto the recent legislation, stating that it is “very difficult to enforce something that’s unconstitutional.” According to Jackson, “To make a criminal activity of just having a conversation, whether some acts of criminal activity are associated with it or not, it goes beyond reason.” That’s the root of the problem though; authorities believe that violent flash mobs, and possibly even the recent riots in the U.K., are being organized by individuals using social networking, but there is very little evidence supporting this theory. Investigations into alleged flash mob incidents in Cleveland and other cities have unearthed little to no information suggesting that they were organized on the Internet. Even if there was evidence of this kind, government officials who try to control social media sites in an attempt to combat potential violence face a number of other problems. Primarily, free-speech advocates say such efforts are on shaky constitutional ground. In addition, the open and public nature of the Internet and social networking platforms makes controlling the free flow of information nearly impossible.
“Flash Mob” Angle Embraced by Media
The social media-induced “flash mob” angle was revitalized when a group of more than two dozen teens raided and robbed a 7-Eleven store in Germantown, Maryland last week. Montgomery County Police originally believed the youths organized the burglary on the Internet, although they later discovered that the teens were on a bus returning from the county fair when they decided to rob the convenience store. Neither the county police nor CNN could find evidence of the members of the raid coordinating on Facebook, Twitter or another social media site. Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff wrote in a commentary for CNN, “The abuse of these [social media] networks and their capabilities hardly justifies recent talk of limiting access, shutting them down, or entrusting corporations and central authorities to monitor them at the expense of our privacy.” Cleveland Mayor Jackson suggested that the “emergency measure” recently proposed by the city council was fueled more by emotion than reason and, in response, the counsel members reversed their decision and voted 14-2 to side with the mayor.
Social Media and First Amendment Rights
The widespread outbreak of violent assaults and group thefts have plagued a number of cities, including Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Chicago, Washington and St. Paul, Minnesota, and authorities and media alike are looking for a common thread. In the end, social networking sites have become the most popular scapegoat, despite the lack of solid evidence linking the two together. In fact, in recent cases, violent groups of teens or rioters were found to be organized by some other means. Unfortunately, the proposed solution for decreasing the frequency of supposed “Internet-organized” violence and crime has severely backfired, causing government authorities like British Prime Minister David Cameron to endure significant criticism by free-speech advocates regarding his proposal to impose limits on the use of social media sites in the U.K. In reality, proposals to censor or block social networking members who may use the Internet to incite violence are typically found to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. According to Margot Kaminski, executive director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, “The Supreme Court has been really strong on First Amendment rights. With the current court that we have and what they’ve been putting out recently, states are going to have to be really, really careful.”