Just yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has called to once again ban Twitter despite the Supreme Court's decision to reinstate it. In recent weeks, people have watched with a good deal of shock and justifiable concern at the recent decision by the Turkish government to ban the use of social networks. The first to take the axe was Twitter, used by the populace to not only share news stories but to organise their growing movement. The next to go was YouTube, and while we may all be dismayed at a whole nation's inability to watch "Charlie Bit My Finger", the move was rooted in much more sinister motives. Blocking social networks represents a systematic shut down of the country's ability to freely share information. Erdogan shares the dubious honour of being one of only seven countries that block these sites, in company with Iran and North Korea.
A free internet is as primary to free speech as any other tool, and most people would agree. As heads of commerce here in the UK tut at their less enlightened counterparts across the Bosphorus, I have to call hypocrite on some. 28% of offices still block social networks.. Why? The old chestnut of time wasting doesn't hold water as almost everyone has a smartphone available to them that can allow access to the latest meme about giraffes or pics of people's lunch. And security? Firms like Google and Microsoft take security pretty seriously, and they allow free access to the internet. And where's there's a will, there's a way. If someone wants to steal from you, blocking social networks won't stop them. These are just excuses that are as lame as Erdogan's statements that social networks are the western world's attempt at cultural homogeneity. (Although I would be the first to admit that TMZ isn't one of the western world's most laudable exports).
The anti-internet position of both despot and corporate director refuses to accept the most basic purpose of the web, to share knowledge. And as we all know, knowledge is power. Facebook is now exploring the use of drones to bring internet to more remote areas of the planet, and although there are some who will see this as a commercial move to bring more income to Facebook, I see it as a boon that only a huge corporation would be suited to bring to fruition. (Let's not forget that it was the industrialists of old that brought us some of the best inventions and reforms: Cadbury's helped bring about safer working conditions and Henry Ford a fair wage and the assembly line.)
Information is being digitised at a breakneck pace, and soon the internet will be the only way to access most of it. When governments or corporations limit access to the internet, they are engaging in the hubris of belief that all that is valuable resides within their boundaries. And in a corporate environment, that hubris runs the risk of stunting business performance. Furthermore, research shows that social network distractions can be helpful to performance. Our brains need breaks to be able to generate new ideas, and access to social networks help drive value in businesses. If that break is to read the news or a work related blog, great. If it's to chat online with a friend about your hot date, what's the bother? It's just a virtual water cooler moment. Again, where there's a will, there's a way. If someone is hell-bent on skiving, blocking the internet won't stop them.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the Google Atmosphere event and I shared the stage with Rachel Miller who consults on integrating social networks, and in particular Twitter, into corporate comms initiatives. She shared some of the fear most executives feel about freedom of access, calling social networks "weapons of mass distraction." But most execs are coming around to the understanding of social networks as a business tool, with more and more now focusing on how to align these tools with the broader business strategy. (Case in point regarding the work effectiveness of social networks: I used Twitter to be in touch with Rachel for this info. Quick, easy and wholly work related.)
The challenge however, is that in the same way we look at Turkey's move as the desperate last gasp of an increasingly totalitarian regime, employees see the same. Failure by firms to allow access to social networks smacks of corporate insecurity and an immature understanding of the way these tools are used. Worse yet, it makes a corporate image look very much the Luddite, struggling to move from an old-fashioned, big-brother style management culture to one of trust and transparency.
The Edelman trust index shows that we don't trust our governments anymore, and with moves like Turkey has made, it is not surprising. We also don't trust our CEOs, and for similar reasons. Shenanigans at a global level have torn apart the patriarchal social contract that inculcates the message "you say jump, I say how high". We want more from our employers, and some of those things are transparency, freedom and trust.
I sailed for a week in Turkey last summer and it was the best holiday of my life. I found the people to be lovely, open and kind. My heart breaks for what I fear will be a difficult point in their political evolution, as they struggle to carve out some very basic freedoms for their people, one of which is certainly a free internet. I am hopeful that the rest of the world, who perhaps already take these freedoms for granted, recognises that we have a gift in a free internet, and the very natural and right extension of that is for offices to allow the same. Even if it means the great corporate risk of the occasional game of FarmVille.