Two years ago the threat that governments as ideologically diverse as Britain and China would seek to control and even shut down social media during times of unrest seemed inevitable.
The world had seen the power of social media to connect and organize people, for good and evil. On the one hand, we watched with approval the role of Facebook and Twitter in overthrowing Middle Eastern dictators. On the other, we gazed in horror as social media was used by criminals and looters to organize themselves during bloody unrest in the UK, US, China, France and elsewhere.
The response of governments was predictable. Unable or unwilling to deal with the root social causes of unrest, they targeted social media as the villain. Heavy sanctions, including shutting down services during unrest, were proposed.
But a new worldwide movement called PeoplePower has stepped into the breach! And this picture tells the story. Two policemen arresting a looter during the 2011 UK unrest – as dozens of bystanders film and photograph the event.
“It was this image that sparked the idea,” says PeoplePower founder Angus Buchanan.
“If criminals can use social media to organize themselves, why can’t the huge majority of well-intentioned people use the same power to fight them?”
Police are suddenly experiencing a wave of new public support as tens of millions of users of social media around the world are turning their cameras and tweets against the thugs.
The simple idea behind PeoplePower – that our newfound freedom of expression through social media carries with it a responsibility to support order in our societies – has ignited people in a positive street revolution.
“Connectivity gives us ordinary people power and puts us in control. We’re using that to protect our freedom. Much better than heavy-handed laws from governments,” says Lee Chang, a 24-year-old Beijing shop assistant.