England's rioters threatened with Facebook, Twitter ban

Summary:The UK's home secretary spoke in Parliament today to propose that those who riot or commit disorder through means of social media, could face Twitter and Facebook bans.

Those who participated in violence, disorder and criminal activity during England's riots earlier this summer, could face bans from social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger, the UK's home secretary has said.

Speaking in Parliament today, it emerged that the talks between the major social networking and social media companies led to punitive measures against individuals, that break not only the services' terms and conditions, but also the law.

(Source: Flickr, CC)

The government had come under increased pressure to restore order, after the shooting of a man in Tottenham, north London by police only days before, led to widespread rioting across London, and then to other major cities.

Within weeks of the disorder subsiding, many were critical of the prime minister David Cameron's plans to effectively "shut off" the British web, as way of preventing the spread of messages from social media, which were being used to perpetuate and organise violence during the five-day riot.

In reply to a question by Heidi Alexander, MP for Lewisham East, one of the boroughs of London where disorder spread to, the home secretary Theresa May told the House:

"We discussed a number of matters, both how the police can actively use social media networks, but also the companies looking at the terms and conditions they have and when they might be taking people off the network because they might be breaching those terms and conditions.

Subsequent meetings have been held on a one-to-one basis between the police and the individual companies."

While social media was blamed as a means to spread disorder, many had used the platforms to engage with others to avoid the unsafe streets. Police had used Twitter in particular as a medium to communicate with concerned citizens and to dampen false claims and misinformation.

During London's Wired 2011 conference, it was ruled by Joanna Shields, vice-president of Facebook in Europe that Cameron's web shut-off plans would 'never happen'.

Last week, it emerged that Scotland Yard, home to London's police service, acquired mobile phone tracking and intercepting technology at great cost to the UK taxpayer, purportedly to be used to track the spread of rioters in real-time, but also to disable remote-controlled mobile phones in case of an imminent detonation.

Related:

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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