David Cameron’s suggestion that individuals’ access to social media might be restricted to help contain future riots has prompted widespread comparisons with internet controls in China and elsewhere. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch commented on Twitter that such a policy would “set [an] awful precedent for [the] Chinas of [the] world.” At The Atlantic, James Fallows wrote:
Did David Cameron not read a single foreign news story this past year? Did he have no idea what camp he was placing himself in, with his call to block social media as a way of controlling violence in England? (“When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them” etc. “Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill.” During the Jasmine era, I read more or less those views, from Chinese officials, about the need to get tough.)
Sure enough, a Xinhua editorial celebrates Cameron’s conversion, while chiding the Prime Minister for his tardiness in confronting reality:
In a speech delivered in Kuwait in February, the British prime minister, however, argued that freedom of expression should be respected “in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square.”
Learning a hard lesson from bitter experience, the British government eventually recognized that a balance needs to be struck between freedom and the monitoring of social media tools ….
We may wonder why western leaders, on the one hand, tend to indiscriminately accuse other nations of monitoring, but on the other take for granted their steps to monitor and control the Internet.
They are not interested in learning what content those nations are monitoring, let alone their varied national conditions or their different development stages.
Laying undue emphasis on Internet freedom, the western leaders become prejudiced against those “other than us,” stand ready to put them in the dock and attempt to stir up their internal conflicts.
At Global Voices Online, meanwhile, John Kennedy collects responses to Cameron’s proposal from Chinese microbloggers:
Should we lend them our GFW then?
I just wonder, will Beijing use this as an excuse now to get rid of Weibo, that thorn in their side?
I see the police have finally smartened up….
I suggest the English police start paying attention to measures the Chinese government uses to maintain stability!
Kennedy also translates from the blog of a UK-based Chinese journalist [zh] whose conclusions, perhaps, shed light on Cameron’s eagerness to find a scapegoat in Twitter and RIM:
There was no preparedness for a sudden incident such as this, and once it did break out, nobody unfortunately moved to deal with it quickly, instead people just hoped that the rioters would disperse by themselves. The opposite happened, and riots began to spread by the second day. Police were caught off guard and fumbled around, leaving them even more incapable of dealing with the rioters, contributing to even more people taking part in the looting, and then the situation fell apart.
Given the nature of England’s political climate, riots such as this ought to be the strong suit of a conservative government, but the riots instead caught the current coalition government by surprise, and Cameron was a day late in returning to the country, something which has greatly affected his reputation. If he can’t put the riots down and quickly, I’m afraid Cameron won’t remain prime minister for much longer.
Earlier in the week, Global Times took issue with British media coverage of the riots: see Is There a Revolution Taking Place in London? via CDT.