As the Facebook following of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) rebel group M23 continues to grow, questions must be asked about the ethics of allowing groups committing atrocities to maintain a social media profile, particularly one that has apparently gained traction.
Should Facebook and other social media sites shut down such groups? Gabriella Mulligan and Tom Jackson debate the subject.
The Case For: Gabriella Mulligan
Freedom of speech is enshrined in law as a universal human right. However, murder, rape, and incitement of hatred are all crimes under most jurisdictions. Violent rebel groups committing widespread atrocities – such as the M23 group – should be prevented from promoting their cause via social media.
Social media is a tool for business, for entertainment. It provides unparalleled opportunity for global reach. While this is an invaluable tool in many cases and greatly forwards the freedom of speech, it has a flipside which facilities crime-incitement.
It should not be possible to use social media as a tool to spread support for violence, and it should not facilitate the association of those committing terrible crimes.
The UN – a respected international body – has condemned the activities of the M23 group, and reports of their crimes have been confirmed on the ground.
Social media should not, then, be a “no man’s land” – where no rules apply, morality disappears, and no consequences ensue. Facebook should step in and suspend the M23 group rather than provide an avenue for global connection and rapid growth.
I do not argue for censorship in general. But in the case of those resorting to terrible violence and wide-spread crime, they should not enjoy the opportunities provided by social networking websites, but rather, the promotion and incitement of aggression and violence should be stopped in the public interest.
The Case Against: Tom Jackson
Nobody is disputing that the M23 group is committing terrible crimes, and that there increasing popularity on Facebook is concerning. Yet were Facebook to close down their group it could be the start of a slippery slope for any organisation with a social media presence deemed unsavoury.
It is authoritarian governments that shut down and censor social networks. Democracies should not do the same, but retain the moral high ground. M23 may be a cruel and brutal organisation, but shutting down their Facebook page would serve only to encourage their sense of discrimination and do nothing to help the situation on the ground.
Blanket censorship of books, films and the press are topics barely mentioned in the modern age. Simply because social media is a relatively new phenomenon does not mean it should be considered differently.
There is no evidence that cutting off M23’s access to social media will do anything to stop the violence in the DRC. In the wake of the Arab Spring in Egypt, high levels of censorship by the government only resulted in sustained periods of violence, while when censorship was not in place violent outburst were less common.
More attention should perhaps be paid to those that have seen fit to “like” the group. It could even be that the presence of the group could assist those looking to stop M23, as it provides details of the rebel group’s activities, their supporters across the world and perhaps even a traceable IP address.
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