"I don't worry about social media so much as I do about corporate and government attempts to shut them down," Micah Sifry, Executive Editor of the Personal Democracy Forum, told a mid-day panel hosted by Wired magazine at Google's New York science hub. Social media companies, he said, will do what is in their best interests -- and not always what's best for free speech, privacy and the security of citizen activists.
"...I'm terrified that we are relying on corporate entities to enable" citizen organizing over Facebook, Twitter, email and cellphones in one country after another, Sifry said. "I think it's very dangerous, as there's really no reason that social media companies have to be socially responsible at all. Their responsibility is to the bottom line." [See Portable Propaganda in CauseGlobal, about Vodaphone's Feb. 3 accusation that Egyptian authorities were secretly using its network to send anonymous, pro-government propaganda to protesters.]
Sifry, author of the recent book, Wikileaks and The Age of Transparency, also said he worries about a lack of transparency by social media companies when it comes to their policies governing user privacy and security. He said social media platforms "have become ubiquitous ... yet we as users have less rights on them than we do walking into a shopping mall." Sifry added: "I don't think that these [social media] companies will be good global citizens" in the years ahead. Typically, "the government asks for your data and companies hand it over," he said. "...This is a great wakeup call for citizens to fight for something better, and to ask themselves, What are our rights? How do we enforce them in this space?"
He said he wrote his book to help people understand that while social media can accelerate social movements -- these movements will not occur the same way across the globe, nor have the same outcomes, due to differences in local cultures and aspirations. Case in point: the failure of a Facebook campaign in Syria last week and separately, the recent use of blogs and other forms of social media by Sudanese authorities to disseminate false information in an effort to ferret out and arrest anti-government protesters.