The following two article were published in the monopolized newspapers over the same week.
The first article explores the threat to USA national security posed by "social media", and the other article extolls of the virtues of "social media" against foreign governments which the USA is at war with.
2012-12-01 "Social media, terrorism connect too well: The role of social media in the world's revolutions" by Janine Zacharia
After Israel's latest battle with Hamas last month, a House Republican from Texas accused Twitter of "enabling the enemy" by allowing the Palestinian militant group to have a Twitter account.
"The FBI and Twitter must recognize sooner rather than later that social media is a tool for the terrorists," Rep. Ted Poe told the Hill, a Washington newspaper.
Poe's comments came after he and six other congressmen wrote to the FBI demanding that Twitter remove accounts of groups designated by the United States as terrorists.
Regardless of whether the organizations should be allowed to have Twitter handles, the congressmen touch on a problem getting too little attention given how quickly social media is spreading as the pre-eminent information-sharing method of our age.
Social media is no longer simply a fun way to share updates on the harmless idiosyncrasies of our lives. It can undermine national security, and there ought to be a more robust discussion between the Bay Area technology world and Washington on what to do about it.
Cyber-terrorism, especially the potential for electronic tampering with U.S. industrial or military installations, is a paramount national security threat that Washington is working to forestall. We're all working to protect our accounts from hackers. But the cyber-threat getting far less public attention involves the social media networks we use every day and the potential they have to trigger an unexpected crisis.
This discussion should have begun in earnest with the killing of Osama bin Laden.
In May 2011, as U.S. Navy SEALs prepared to covertly descend on bin Laden's suspected compound, an insomniac, a Pakistani IT specialist using the handle@reallyvirtual tweeted about hearing helicopters.
His tweets didn't scuttle the mission. But they certainly could have. And there was surprisingly little public talk in the aftermath of what could have gone wrong.
In September, a 14-minute clip of a low-budget film made in California that insulted the Prophet Muhammad went viral on Google's YouTube, producing a national security headache for the United States.
Protesters first breached the compound of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Demonstrations erupted outside at least 20 other U.S. Embassies across the entire Muslim world, from the Middle East all the way to Indonesia. In Tunisia, crowds clashed with police at the U.S. mission and an American school was ransacked. Police fired on protesters at the American Embassy in Sudan. A Marine rapid response team was dispatched to Yemen to protect U.S. diplomats.
The deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was later determined to be a terrorist attack not related to the film. Republican attacks on the Obama administration's characterization of what happened in Libya overshadowed the chaos the film did in fact trigger elsewhere.
Internally, Google gets it. There are people in the company's Mountain View headquarters who worry every day about controversial content.
But social media companies, which pride themselves on being beacons of free speech, don't like being told what to do by Washington bureaucrats, lest they leave the mistaken impression to their millions of users here and abroad that they are government lackeys.
With the film-clip crisis unfolding, the White House, eager to see the video removed, asked Google to reconsider whether it violated YouTube's terms of service. Google said it didn't. Instead, because of what Google described as "very difficult circumstances," it decided to block access to the clip in Libya and Egypt for just three weeks but left it up everywhere else. Today, Pakistan and Afghanistan, fearing unrest, continue to block YouTube entirely so the film clip cannot be viewed.
Google, Facebook and Twitter all maintain a dialogue with officials across the U.S. government. But their focus is more on privacy or copyright regulations than on national security. These companies' primary concern is protecting users' data, not protecting people from possible future political clashes abroad.
The dialogue needs to be broadened, especially given how quickly Silicon Valley is developing new ways to share information.
"On issues at the intersection of technology and foreign policy, we talk to technology companies," the State Department's globe-trotting social media guru, Alec Ross, told me last week as he prepared to head off to the Middle East. "The benefit can flow in two directions. Technology executives can help us develop new solutions to foreign policy challenges. Diplomats can help technology executives understand the impact of their tools geopolitically."
U.S. intelligence agencies probably understand the problems best. They come regularly to Silicon Valley to explore ways terrorists can use new technologies to mask their identities, and to formulate ideas for using social networks to track them.
But at the moment, there seems to be no comprehensive approach to dealing with the unpredictable consequences of such a global, open network. Each troublesome tweeter or YouTube video is handled on an ad hoc basis when what's really needed is an action plan for when the next crisis arises. With 72 hours' worth of video uploaded to YouTube every minute - much of it in real time via smartphones - and a billion tweets sent out every three days, the chances are high for another anti-Muhammad-like film or some other offensive post spurring the kind of riots we saw in September.
Any suggestion that smells of censorship will be considered taboo. But given the recent examples where Twitter and YouTube found themselves unwittingly part of delicate events abroad, it might be wise for them to lead some creative thinking about the problem before the next made-in-California movie goes viral and lives again are put in jeopardy.
2012-11-27 "What tyrants fear most: social media" by Joel Brinkley
Most of the world's dictators share a common fear, and it's not of the United States, NATO, the United Nations or any outside entity. No, the force that most threatens them is social media.
Originally designed as enhanced online chat forums for young Americans, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the rest have spread around the world and are now being used as cudgels against authoritarian leaders in places like Vietnam, Russia, Belarus and Bahrain. In those states and so many others, the leaders are attacking tweeters and bloggers as if they were armed revolutionaries. And the repression is spreading.
In India a few days ago, a 21-year-old medical student posted a mildly critical comment about a Hindu political figure who'd just died. Within 24 hours, police arrested her and a friend who had "liked" the student's Facebook post and charged them with engaging in hateful, offensive speech -- this in one of the world's strongest democracies. (Police let them go a few days later.)
A more typical example comes from Belarus. There, President Alexander Lukashenko, commonly known as Europe's last dictator, seems to be fighting online verbiage all the time.
Recently, Ecuador's Supreme Court turned down an extradition request from Belarus for a blogger who fled there after the government charged him with fraud. Alexander Barankov had been blogging about widespread government corruption. That particular extradition denial stands as a bold demonstration of the fraud charge's absurdity because Rafael Correa, Ecuador's president and an acolyte of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is no champion of press freedom. Far from it. And yet he defied the Belarus request.
Baranakov is hardly the only example. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe declaimed Lukashenko's record of arresting journalists and bloggers, saying "unfortunately recent detentions and searches in Minsk and elsewhere in the country show continued efforts to muzzle dissenting voices and clamp down on freedom of expression online."
Iran, not surprisingly, is even tougher. Bloggers are given long prison terms or sentenced to death, charged with "enmity against God" and subverting national security. Human-rights groups say the bloggers and tweeters are tortured in jail. In mid-November, one died in police custody for unexplained reasons.
Iran is actually trying to set up its own internal Internet. There, the government says, "unregulated social media and other content likely to encourage dissent" simply won't be available.
But the sad truth is, the dictators whose people are the most repressed -- locked in abject poverty -- don't have to worry about the social-media problem. In Laos, Cambodia, Eritrea, Mozambique and a handful of other states, most people have no access to computers or cell phones. Many of them are illiterate and couldn't use the devices even if they had them. That leaves their leaders to trample over their rights with near-full impunity.
China demonstrates this better than any nation. The state's economic-development program pulled millions of Chinese out of poverty. Previously, Chinese were relatively quiescent. But with prosperity came a new understanding of how venal and repressive the Chinese Communist Party really is. So millions of Chinese took to new social-media platforms to complain.
Now China spends more money on internal security -- including a massive online censorship office -- than it does on its military. Persistent online critics are imprisoned or worse. That demonstrates a clear fact: The Chinese government fears its own people far more than it does any outside power.
Other states are catching up. Russia is implementing a massive new online Internet filtering system, ostensibly to protect children from offensive sites. But human-rights advocates are warning that it can just as easily be used to block social-media commentary the government doesn't like.
In Oman this fall, six people were jailed for defaming the state on Facebook. That came after the National Human Rights Commission of Oman (an oxymoron if I've ever heard one) labeled those posts and others "negative writings that violate Islamic principles."
Nearby, Bahrain is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, it jailed a human-rights advocate for tweeting criticism of the nation's tyrannical prime minister. Then authorities arrested four more Bahrainis for Twitter posts considered to be critical of the king.
At the same time, though, the government allowed one of the state's biggest companies, a telecom provider named Zain Bahrain, to sponsor a major business conference there, undoubtedly because it will be quite profitable for the island's hotels, restaurants and other travel-related businesses.
What was the conference about? It's title: The Social Media Masters Forum.