When you think of a government shutting down social media to quell rioting in the streets, Britain is not the first country that comes to mind. But, about an hour ago, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that the government is going to ban UK citizens from popular social networking sites if they are suspected of plotting criminal activity. No explanation of what constitutes suspicion has been released at this time.
As I reported earlier, Blackberry’s BBM and Twitter have played a huge role in fanning the flames unrest in London, with rioters hacking into BlackBerry’s Twitter account and making threats against the company if the it cooperates with police. (BlackBerry BBM’s are encrypted and therefore enable mass communication that cannot be monitored by police).
Cameron said he would meet with Facebok and Twitter to discuss whether it is possible to limit the spread on online messages in connection with acts of rioting, looting or other criminal activity.
And, social media isn’t the only thing Cameron is after, he is also requesting that broadcasters hand over unused footage to police in connection with the riots in order to identify criminals, which has been vehemently protested when attempted previously.
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. I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers. Police were facing a new circumstance where rioters were using the BlackBerry Messenger service, a closed network, to organise riots. We’ve got to examine that and work out how to get ahead of them.
Cameron however, has said he will do “whatever it takes” to bring order to the nation after the acts of civil disobediance. Police are already taking action against rioters and have arrested three people in Southhampton under suspicions or inciting violence through Twitter and BBM.
I understand the inclination to ban social media sites and shut down people’s phones. I mean, things are insane in London and now, many other cities. I cannot believe the images that are still coming out of this mess and its heartbreaking to see a city I love so much being destroyed.
But, even if you ignore the morality issues connected to shutting off people’s phones and access to social media and the big brother issues and the democratic nation \ free press issues, it’s still been proven that banning social media doesn’t work. Egypt tried and apart from costing Egypt’s economy as much as $90 million, or $18 million per day, it did nothing to quell the protests.
What do you think? Is it possible to ban social media? Is it even possible to police it? We’re talking about private corporations and the freedom of the press. On the other hand, what would you do if your city was burning?