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San Francisco Cuts Cellphone Service to Stop Protest

Social media ‘flash mobs’ are becoming integral to the organization of protests. San Francisco officials shut down cellphone service to thwart a protest Thursday. What will happen today?

What’s the Latest Development?

The hacker-activist group Anonymous has broken into servers kept by Bay Area Rapid Transit (B.A.R.T.), part of San Francisco’s public transport network, releasing personal data belonging to thousands of B.A.R.T. users. The move was a response to B.A.R.T.’s decision last Thursday to cut cellphone service in its tunnels in order to prevent protesters from organizing against what they say has been the repeated use of excessive force by B.A.R.T. police officers. In 2009, an unarmed man was shot dead by police and on July 3 of this year, a man wielding a knife was also killed by police. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The actions of B.A.R.T. and Anonymous highlight the tension between the right of the public to be safe from harm and the right to exercise free of speech. Paul Levinson, professor of communication at Fordham University in New York says B.A.R.T.’s move to cut service was “a blatant violation of the First Amendment.” The larger point, says Levinson, is that society, thanks to social media, may be undergoing a fundamental shift from a representative democracy to a direct one. 


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