In late 2010, things started to go haywire across North Africa. Pockets of resistance to leaders very unlike yourself sprung up and you watched them with interest. You cheered them on as they organized outside the state-run media that merely regurgitated what the dictators told them. The loudspeakers metastasized into a thousand digital megaphones and people hit the streets in Tunis and Cairo. Not all the revolutions were as successful as those, but nonetheless, you had to give it to the Arab Street. They'd adopted the social media tools and used them to overthrow their oppressors by speaking as one. That was the lesson you took from it. Finally, the body politic in Egypt had been allowed to speak.
Then, one day, suddenly, without warning, there were riots in your own streets. Your police didn't know what to do. Your citizens were mad or scared or mad and scared. You hear reports that people were using their phones and these social networks to organize looting. You read some of the individual messages. You look at what the people are saying. And you are appalled. It's not just what the violent people in the streets are doing, it's what everyone is doing. There's no civility. Who are these people making all this noise while you alone know what the signal is? Why isn't the body politic listening when you go on television? Why do you feel so helpless? This thing is spreading in ways you don't understand.
You decide to threaten to shut down social media. You say to the people:
Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.
You have no idea how you might do this, but it seems like you should make a stand, say the words S_____ Y____.
You also know that this will scare some people off of those places where people are talking to each other instead of looking at you. Because what the nation needs to do right now is look at you. You represent the nation, law and order. You protect the body politic, which is coherent and whole. It is not a million voices status updating and tweeting and Blackberry Messaging whatever the hell they want.
This is not just about how the riots were organized. It is about the need to battle chaos and anarchy, the need to perpetuate civilization. Society is in danger of being overwhelmed not just by violence but by the noise of innumerable neighbors all shouting at once. They are losing the story that held the nation together, the one that happens to have you in a leading role right at the moment.
As you drift off for a few hours of sleep, you let yourself wonder if the people have always been this writhing chaotic mass. Is there no such thing as a body politic? Is it all just noise? Have the places you've been and the people you've known been a simulacrum of reality? Then what of your actions and your speeches, your opponents and late charges to their flanks, your legacy?
You wake up. The city has mostly stopped burning.