Social media has found itself in a particularly unwelcome spotlight recently. The riots which shook London in the last few weeks are a prime example, as rioters have utilized Facebook and other social media tools to “organize.” In Missouri, legislators have passed legislation prohibiting some types of Facebook “friending” between teachers and students. And in Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson vetoed an ordinance which would have criminalized some uses of Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media to organize “flash mobs” (large gatherings of people, most often teenagers, organized via social media) within the city limits.
Of course, such efforts beg the question of what the true problem is – Facebook or those using it to commit crime or engage in improper behavior? Is Facebook any more of a criminal tool than a cell phone or e-mail? This type of attention implicitly acknowledges the effectiveness of Facebook and other forms of social media in spreading the word, for good or for bad. Should the baby be thrown out with the bathwater as legislators struggle to maintain order on their streets or in their schools? Of course, the First Amendment – which some seem to forget applies to social media communication as well – will have a significant impact on such legislation, and legislation attempting to criminalize the use of social media may go the way of other notable efforts.