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January 28, 2011

Censorship, the Internet and Social Networks: What Would You Do?

In this post, Andrea wants to know what you would do if the government pulled the plug on the Internet or restricted access to social networks …

Andrea Wisdorf |Social MediaI would consider myself a fairly imaginative person. Creative, dramatic, a born storyteller.

One thing, however, I cannot imagine is my government literally turning off the Internet. THE INTERNET. Just gone. Out. Off-as if there’s a switch on a wall somewhere to be flipped the second someone steps out of line.

‘That’s it kids, you’re grounded from the Internet!’

Jaimy and I sat watching a live stream of protests during the enforcement of curfew in Cairo this morning, equal parts stunned and terrified. We are products of journalism schools and we hold a common belief, one that I am convinced all journalism students and professionals the country over know inherently from day one:

The rights that set the stage for all things democrat, the rights that hold our government, our people, responsible and accountable, the rights that allow us to be our own people, are those set forth by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

Journalists know the importance of this Amendment first-hand. Not only do their livelihoods depend on it, but the very ethics of the profession hinge on it. We were taught its importance, required to learn the laws that encompass it in our field, shown what journalism looks like without it. Obviously, this isn’t the case for all industries. In fact, I would venture to make the generalization that some people who are further removed from the topic take this Amendment for granted or don’t understand what these rights truly mean. They joke about others whose governments do not offer such privileges.

Which, has been demonstrated by my Twitter stream all morning-jokes about Egypt and their Internet black out-but I’m not laughing. I’m terrified for the people of Egypt, as I’m terrified for all nations who are not allotted this right. Censorship of the media is serious stuff. It reinforces the very reason why some Egyptians are protesting and demonstrating in the first place-political corruption, inequality and oppression.

No Internet in this day and age means limited communication with nongovernmental news sources. It means a clueless outside. That’s no laughing matter, regardless of your opinions on the protests or the U.S.’s diplomatic relationships with Egypt.

As this is all unraveling, another inherent result of my education is also being stirred. That public relations professional whose response to spin is visceral. I am watching closely for Egyptian officials to make statements regarding the actions of the government. How you could even attempt to sugar coat this one is beyond me.

One thing’s for sure, though. If this, what Secretary of State Clinton calls the “unprecedented shut down of the Internet,” were ever to occur here, I’d be making my way for the border immediately. Because clearly, it’d be a sure sign that the shit’s about to hit the fan.

What are your thoughts? What would you do if the U.S. government pulled the plug on the Internet here? Or restricted access to social networks?