Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Have the Internet and Social Media Become Rights?

There are countless blog posts and articles discussing the many ways social media is changing our lives. The recent events in Egypt have created a new debate about social media. An article in The Washington Post reported on U.S. officials speaking out against blocking the Internet and social media, referring to these technologies as rights.

This topic was brought up in one of my classes last week. Our conversation quickly became focused on what constitutes a right. As we all (should) know, the First Amendment gaurantees us five rights: speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. My professor stressed that social media and the Internet have become tools to help us exercise these rights. The ability to exercise our freedom of speech through social media is obvious, but the other First Amendment rights can be exercised through technology just as well. As oppressive goverments have realized, these technologies have come to aid people in organizing themselves to challenge the status quo. Banning social media and the Internet do not completely prevent people from exercising these rights, but it does take away a major channel for doing so.

So the question stands: if the Internet and social media are tools for exercising our rights, does that make access to these technologies a right as well?


Samuel Sunmonu said...

I would agree that the internet and social media are tools we use to exercise our First Amendment rights, and that access to those technologies should be a Right.

Just because newspapers, magazines and journals are increasingly moving online doesn't mean that access to them should be blocked because they are not "traditional" ways to exercise your basic rights.

You are right that banning the internet would not stop the NY Times or the WSJ from exercising their rights completely, but what about the Huffington Post or the Drudge Report. Millions of people read those sites everyday and express their opinions on a wide range of topics; if you remove the internet, presumably millions of people now won't have a voice.

Like you said, the basic concept stays the same, the only thing that has changed is the medium.

We as Americans need to make sure that the use of the internet becomes a Right, otherwise, we might witness in America what happened in Egypt a week ago.

PRowl Public Relations said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response! You bring up a good point about web-only publications. An internet ban would inhibit both the publications themselves and their readers from continuing to share their messages.

Fortunately, U.S. officials seem to agree with your opinions that we as Americans should make sure internet use becomes a right. The Washington Post reports the State Department has laid out plans to spend $30 million on internet freedom programs. These plans have not been released or acted upon yet but at least they seem to be moving in the right direction with this issue.