Social networks oppose UK gov't call for ban during civil unrest

Posted Aug 25, 2011 by Anthony Organ
In the wake of the recent UK riots, calls have been made to regulate social networks during times of civil unrest. Representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Research in Motion meet home secretary Theresa May today to warn against this move.
The Examiner
Just days after the first night of rioting following the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by police officers, there were reports that it was "believed the violence may have been organised via social networking sites". These reports suggested that the key reason behind the riots spreading so swiftly was that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as in particular Blackberry Messenger, were utilised to direct potential rioters to specific places at specific times. Despite a pair being sentenced to four years in jail for attempting, unsuccessfully albeit, to use Facebook to incite further riots, it has generally been concluded that it was Blackberry Messenger which was used most effectively in creating further chaos.
The most likely reason behind this the ease of "broadcasting" your messages to every one of your contacts at once on the Blackberry handsets. With just a few button presses your message is sent instantly, and free of charge, to everyone linked to you on the service. The UK media regulator Ofcom also recently completed a study which shows that Blackberry handsets are the handset of choice for teens and young adults, holding 37 percent of the market share for each. It appears that the combination of widespread use and convenience were abused to spread the initially London-based riots nationwide.
A few days after the riots, David Cameron told parliament that social networks should take more responsibility for content posted and warned of banning those who were suspected of inciting violence online from posting on them. Facebook quickly responded claiming that they had removed several "credible threats of violence" relating to the UK riots, whilst evidence has emerged today that the majority of riot related tweets occurred after the first verified reports of incidents in most areas. Meanwhile, RIM argue that the fact that police were able to prevent riots by monitoring their messenger service demonstrates that leaving social networks running can provide valuable information to authorities.
As well as Theresa May, executives from the social networks will be joined by representatives from the police, civil servants from the foreign office and department for culture, media and sport, as well as James Brokenshire, the minister for security, who will lead the meeting with May. Yesterday, a coalition of 10 human rights groups wrote an open letter to Theresa May warning against the shutting down of social networks, claiming that it would "restrict legitimate, free communication and expression and undermine people's privacy", whilst also suggesting that such a change to legislation must happen through a public consultation. The home secretary is expected to attempt to find an alternative method of containing disorder, likely through co-operating with the social networks to allow law enforcement to make more effective use of them.