The Good And Bad Of Social Media In A Democracy
The Good And Bad Of Social Media In A Democracy
The Good And Bad Of Social Media In A Democracy

The International Visitor Leadership Program, an off-shoot of something run by the U.S. State Department, brought a group of journalists and bloggers from China to the U.S. recently. I met with them in Louisville on Friday to discuss new media journalism in the U.S. The hour-and-a-half long meeting gave them an opportunity to ask me questions about how bloggers and journalists in the U.S. deal with a variety of issues, including ethics in journalism, credibility in new and online media outlets, how Americans can be critical of their government but do so within the confines of our laws and the like.

Because several of the guests on the trip were also bloggers, more than traditionally trained journalists, as well as social media enthusiasts, they also asked many questions about social media marketing and advising companies on how to use the social web to connect with consumers.

Surprisingly, at least to me, they asked many of the same questions I’m asked regularly — how do you measure social media success, what is the ROI of social media, what areas are companies typically resistant to and how do you overcome that. It was refreshing to see that their questions were on par with similar individuals in the U.S.

Justice sends mixed messages
Image by Dan4th via Flickr

The first question that was asked of me that day was from Xiuli Zhuang, a Ph.D. holder and master instructor at Beijing Normal University, and one of the people responsible for, a social media community and learning center for the Chinese people. It was focused on the obvious political differences in our countries and how bloggers and journalists in America can, within the law, be critical of our government.

While her question was generally focused there, I chose to broaden my answer to explain the biggest difference between social media in America and what I assume to be social media in China. Granted, I’ve never been to China and don’t know for certain how their government reacts to this power-to-the-people movement in how we communicate, but I can assume a few things based on China’s precedents and the few news stories I’ve read about the government banning Facebook and other social media-related items.

I told her the biggest difference between social media here and there is that our government tends to wait for someone to die or sue to react to changes in public behavior. It typically takes a lawsuit for the U.S. government to consider policy change or even regulation or law that would apply to something not already covered by existing policy.

Is anonymity online protected under free speech? No, according to legal precedent. But that precedent wasn’t established until 2010 with lawsuits like Paul v. John Doe a/k/a “Davey Crocket” in which an anonymous poster on was found to have stated provably false items about Paul Syiek, who sued. The courts ruled the person’s identity should be revealed and he should be held liable for his misstatements.

China’s government, under my assumptions and admitted meagre knowledge, is more proactive and totalitarian in its response to societal change or uncertainty. Better to ban Facebook than to allow the public to open that can of worms. In America, we’re a Democracy. We let the public open as many cans of worms it chooses until one of the worms bites someone, makes them sick or infringes on someone else’s rights. Then, and only then, will our Government step in.

This is both good and bad. While Americans have always been rather spoiled and indignant because of their “Constitutional rights,” we often fail to see that in order to have them, we have to put up with or the comments section of our local newspapers. (An aside, the Courier-Journal in Louisville and other Gannett properties are moving to Facebook commenting systems to raise the level of discourse on their sites. Thank God!)

With the good (freedoms) come the bad (tolerating idiots we don’t agree with).

In China, the government tends to make decisions for the masses. While they might be well-intended, they aren’t democratic and thus result in disenfranchised citizens. That disenfranchisement can often become oppression as well. Or at least we think it can as freedom-loving and living Americans. My guess is that many Chinese would react to our anger their government “oppresses” them by telling us to lighten the hell up.

What this means for those of us in America, and other Western countries for that matter, is that only now are the lawsuits beginning. Our governments have not reacted to how we use the social web because, for the most part, to date no one has been hurt. But as more businesses and individuals become more knowledgeable and savvy with how social media works, who uses it and for what reason, more will find legal reasons to legislate how we use it.

Expect court cases to be in the news in the coming months and years that not only tell us how we can use social media, but how we can’t.

That’s a rude awakening coming for many of us.

What types of online behavior do you see being legislated out of permissibility in the coming years? Anonymous comments? Grey hat SEO techniques? Others? The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at
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  • JTWBNPCBTXLSZMXDN? I like it very much!

  • Love this.  It’s interesting to think that we pride ourselves on complete freedom yet still come up with ways to shorthand that freedom when it’s imposing.  That said, I think someone will tighten down on the sheer amounts of data that hackers and techies can pull on anybody.  By “someone” I don’t know if it’ll be the government or the social companies themselves (or an awkward convergence of the two).  Right now, technologists can gain thorough and harmful knowledge on anybody.  Maybe this will defer to government initiatives to educate people on private v. public at elementary schools? Or civic outreach campaigns.  Also I think copyright rules will be an issue.  What if company A automates company B’s headlines for twitter? What about for Facebook? 

    And I really appreciate your honesty and disclosure in not fully understanding the Chinese system.   Great ideas!

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  • I think the US govt. is right in waiting; there are things outside of their domain and social media is one.  It could be monitored by a non-govt body.

  • A very comprehensive analysis you have done and i learn a lot of things from your article. In my opinion, (may be i
    am wrong) that government of China don’t want to allow their people to
    be the part of international social communities because after their joining,
    these social media benefit will go to Americans and Anti Chinese
    governments therefore they want to build their own networks.

  • A very comprehensive analysis you have done and i learn a lot of things from your article. In my opinion, (may be i
    am wrong) that government of China don’t want to allow their people to
    be the part of international social communities because after their joining,
    these social media benefit will go to Americans and Anti Chinese
    governments therefore they want to build their own networks.

    • I don’t understand that whats wrong with Chinese government and some other Asian country like Pakistan  etc they want to be the part of ongoing trend and they always want things in their way. Many of you be knowing that facebook is blocked in some countries saying that it is a boon for terrorists. Now how in the world is that I guess terrorists have better network to communicate. Well sorry I went off topic here. Thanks Jason nice post. It was interesting to read Government views on Social Media.

  • Very interesting angle on the social media movement, and considering the American tendency toward litigation your predictions are likely correct!  God help us all, lol!

  • Hi, Jason. I agree with “Link building services” whatever she mentioned is absolutely correct. Everyone should have a responsibilities to change the worst situation. 

  • Social media is all about to speak freely what the other person thinks on certain issue or thing and that is the thing missing in china’s social media then what is the benefit of social network just for saying that we have and nothing else!
    And as opposite situation in other countries like right to speak anything but people in these countries have made the wrong usage of their rights. And else people use their rights in the right direction then each and every person has the power to change the whole worst situation that countries have to face!

  • Hi Jason! Lot of valid points are raised. Good informative post.

  • I have been to China. Spent quite a bit of time there actually.  And I’m impressed. I don’t think anybody can really fathom the scale of what is happening there until they have seen it, felt it.  I’ve conducted business in more than 30 countries and it was easier making things happen in China than in countries like Japan or Germany. That may surprise you but it’s true. I am probably a contrarian, but I think they will also figure the social media thing out … and maybe add a little more privacy protection, too.  

    I agree with your depiction but am concerned that it would take a crisis (not a death – that has already happened) for the government to wake up and address the privacy issues. 

  • Kevin Lau

    File sharing = piracy. There’s one example of how big brother was able to affect social behavior. The reason it got censored was that the big boys were complaining about it. In the coming years, if there was something that the big boys started complaining about, we can expect big brother to step in and intervene.

  • Derick Jelley

    We are a republic not a democracy. Still all valid points.

  • Jason you are so on target here.  Just look at the legislation that is coming up for a vote.  While people are happily talking via social media, our government is discussing ways in which to tighten our “rights”.  And who is putting the bug in their ears? Well, of course big business, they very folks we stand up and united against in social media to have our voices be heard.

    • Really nice post….  keep it up. you have done a great job job by raising correct and valid issues regarding social media and democracy and all the points your can find from Asian Countries now.


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