Saturday, November 27, 2010

Blogging and the Freedom of Speech

On 25 Nov 2010, CNN reported the release of Kareem Amer from an Egyptian prison. Kareem Amer was jailed for "spreading information disruptive of public order and damaging to the country's reputation," "incitement to hate Islam" and "defaming the president of the republic," according to a statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

I am not here to say who is right or who is wrong.  However, assuming the integrity of the Egyptian judicial system, I am supportive of any governments' right to investigate if a crime has been committed and, if so, to take the blogger to task.

This is because, as I have said many times before in the blog, social networking websites like Friendster, FaceBook and Twitter have changed the information environment.  Bloggers can now reach out and influence as many individuals as professionally run news organizations.  Herein lies the danger as unlike professional journalists who abide by a code of ethics, bloggers are unregulated and may be motivated by personal agendas. In addition, the homogeneity of these social communities, and sense of bond among "friends" with common interests, make these communities susceptible to being easily manipulated.

I cite the Greek Riot in 2008 as an example where the death of a student, at the hands of the police, need not have degenerated into nation-wide violent protests. The incident could have remained contained pending investigations by the appropriate authorities. Unfortunately, irresponsible citizens began spreading unsubstantiated accusations of police brutality on social networking sites. This fanned anti-police sentiments which eventually spiraled out of control.  Many analysts are unanimous in their belief that social networking websites were the catalysts in the Greek riots of 2008.

Hence, while I believe that netizens have the right to express their views, the expression of these views must be done responsibly. The inciting of hate or violence is definitely not one freedom I support.  In my opinion, the Egyptian government was correct to investigate this case and, as they deemed a crime had been committed (according to their laws), taken the appropriate actions.

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