As social networks emerged, China approached with caution. The government only allowed a few key players to come forth ( Baidu, Weibo, Tencent ). The caution being rooted in the unknown power it had of mobilizing the masses. The solution was in hindering social capabilities until the government had technology ‘smart’ enough to regulate with the same velocity.
This slowing of innovation was to keep it within reach of China’s powerful censorship and control bureau’s — those at the heart of its political dynamic.
Years into the social media ‘experiment’ we’ve seen a government overthrown in Egypt, umbrella’s on the streets of Hong Kong, and encampments pop up at Wall Street. This mobilisation has even become borderless, with divisive organisations like ISIS and BDS owing much of their successes to understanding social as a tool to cast a net globally.
Recently the power of social media has grown from reactive fringes to a proactive arm of influence used by the likes of Russia, Myanmar, and even the United Kingdom. A literal window into the lives of people riding a wave of mobile adaptation and redefining communities of all shapes and sizes.
We’ve become attuned to how we mobilise, using WhatsApp to drive family organisation, Slack to influence productivity, and Facebook to stay in touch with those who find themselves steps removed from our immediate circles of interaction. Society, needing to find cues in this new conversation, has struggled to establish what is acceptable and what isn’t. They use broad strokes to assign aspects of this ever evolving landscape to one side or another. As the dust settles some technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are ‘whitehat’ while some, like the darkweb, Telegram, even automation software becomes ‘blackhat’…taboo
In the hyper-driven world, interwoven by layers of communities interacting on a 24/7 cycle, data has been harvested, groups exploited, flames fanned all in the name of innovation. But corporations are faceless, beholden to no one save investors. Corporations lack the system of checks and balances that traditional political systems subscribe to, and with that lack of morality comes a question of where their place in community oversight actually resides.
Governments have nibbled around the edges of this issue, with European countries giving ultimatums to Facebook and Google, the UK forcing Wikileaks founder Julan Assange into a literal corner, and Russia pressing Telegram for their encryption keys.
Most are reeling from not having the same foresight as China. The latest of which is Iran, who this past week became the latest player to attempt to shut the barn doors after the horses had already bolted when they unveiled Soroush.
The more understated factor in this announcement, is how it provided further proof of the shifting of data controls from corporations to governments.
As we’ve seen recently, corporations — free of restriction, are prone to abuse this information; yet political systems — by their very nature, put communities (and as a byproduct, their data and its privacy) at the forefront.
Many have come forward mentioning Soroush’s death to America emoji’s, the three tick system, even the endorsement from the Ayatollah himself — but — is it not 6 of one, half-a-dozen of another. If Myanmar had more control over its social media would the UN not have listed Facebook as enabling a genocide? If Lenali hadn’t come about with Mali’s blessing would there not be an entire population of illiterate people whom the social world will have passed by.
The issue is a complex one, and not one answered by a single blog post. Technology is moving beyond hashtags, and soon even beyond the ‘organic’ reach of the micro-influencer. The direction of tech-innovation is taking a much simpler route. Innovation, real innovation, will rely on a path which gives the power back to the communities not as a customer, not as a constituency, but as a group- an organically mobilised, truly productive, and completely respected — group
The next level of innovation depends on how we house these groups. Data privacy leaks have shown the ‘asbestos’ of yesteryear has created toxic dwellings today, but running from shelter to shelter with our groups culls herds and diminishes the power of technology. Groups and communities need not be pre-packaged and fabricated environments you are funnelled into. You — the leader of your group just need the tools and the land — you’ll bring the vision and message in droves.
Perhaps the answer won’t be a new WhatsApp pegged to a phone number, or a Soroush with a phantom third tick. It also could be that GDPR will overregulate to the point where innovation is slowed beyond what we all find acceptable. But knowing there’s a problem, and putting it back into the mail again and again, does nothing but buy time. Whats more, it allows corporate entities to collect dividends on the communities which make us who we are— and if we keep along this path, then soon, very soon, the ends of organising our groups simply won’t justify the means.
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