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Internet freedom is double-edged sword in London riots

By Li Liyan (People's Daily)

16:57, August 22, 2011

Edited and translated by People's Daily Online

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that Internet freedom is a double-edged sword. A case in point of this is the recent wave of unrest in the Western world. After the terror attack in Norway, a study shows that certain groups are actively disseminating far-right views via microblogs, Internet chat rooms and video-sharing websites. During the London riots, certain young people and rioters used social networking sites and BlackBerry smartphones to incite violence and coordinate looting.

Certain scientists, fascinated by the butterfly effect of microblogging, thought that microblogging could increase information sources and even magically change people's sense of time and space while improving their efficiency at work and in life. However, the beautiful "butterfly effect" of microblogging turned evil all of a sudden as it became a purveyor of rumors and a messenger of violence. "Technology has empowered all sides in this skirmish: the rioters, the vigilantes, the government and even the ordinary citizens eager to help," the Wall Street Journal wrote in a report.

Actually, these violent events are not so much news as stirring warnings in the Internet era. The double-edged sword effect of new technology and new media has been fully demonstrated during such events. Misused and out-of-control social networks in particular, were so destructive that related countries had no choice but to respond by cutting off Internet access.

Besides these violent events, we also feel the effect of this double-edged sword in daily life. The new media, represented by Weibo, has been developing rapidly over recent years. Currently, there are 485 million netizens and 195 million Weibo users, thus a "virtual society" is coming into being. In the current era when everyone can express his or her own views, network media not only provide a large quantity of diversified information, but also easily make harmful information and negative sentiment spread. Network media facilitate people's life, but also threaten individual privacy. They may act as either truth discoverer or rumor spreader; either a vanguard of justice or the tool of malicious calumniation.

China needs to have dialectical thinking and adopt scientific measures given the "double-edged sword" reality. Chinese President Hu Jintao once said that the Internet has become a site collecting and spreading ideas and cultural information as well as an amplifier of public opinion. Thus, China should fully understand the social influence of new media represented by the Internet on the one hand and draw particularly importance to the establishment, operations and management of the Internet and strive to make the Internet a forefront spreading advanced culture, an effective platform offering public cultural service as well as a spacious space advancing the healthy development of the public spiritual lives on the other hand. The tide of the robust development of the Internet is unstoppable and there is no way to return to an era without the Internet. Social administrators are faced with the pressure from new media's "double-edged sword" effect and should hence adapt to the development of the times, innovate their management thinking and reform governance measures in order to "properly treat, use and regulate" network media, turn challenges into opportunities and change opportunities into progress.

As for network media, Internet users and the masses, welcoming and integrating into the era of the Internet and sharing their development and dreams rely on the participation and efforts of each of them. U.K. writer George Bernard Shaw once said that freedom means responsibility. Properly using new media is far beyond just viewing, leaving and forwarding various kinds of posts online but rather needs to observe the bottom line of social civilization, make rational thinking and remarks, assume social responsibility and elevate the ability and levels of their participation in online activities. Following the recent spread of rumors through microblogging, some anti-rumor websites have emerged, showing Internet users' good understanding of the "double-edged sword" effect and their increased ability to use the Internet. Such new changes are undoubtedly a new starting point for new media to be more mature and civilized as well as a major force driving their sustainable and healthy development.


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