Two-thirds of Brits support Facebook, Twitter shutdown in future riots

Summary:Most Britons believe the web should be limited in times of civil unrest. But not everybody agrees; particularly the younger generation.

More than two thirds of British adults support the shutdown of social media sites during periods of civil unrest, a poll has found.

This could add fuel to the flames in the aftermath to this summer's riots across England's cities, amid comments made by prime minister David Cameron where he considered 'turning off' the UK web to quell ongoing civil disorder.

(Image via Flickr)

Security firm Unisys surveyed 973 adults. 70 percent of all respondents, including those who "completely" agree or "somewhat" agree, that during outbreaks of civil unrest, social media sites -- including BlackBerry services -- should be temporarily shut down to prevent coordinated criminal activity.

46 percent agreed that governments should have 'open access' to data on social network users, to prevent organised and co-ordinated crime, with slightly less at 42 percent believing that sites like Facebook and Twitter should know more information about users' before allowing them to join.

But a major discrepancy appears between generations, with 18 to 24-year-olds showing the greatest resistance to online measures, with the over-65s, often not a prime demographic for using social media.

However, a joint study between the Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics (LSE) found little evidence to tie Twitter and Facebook to the riots. BlackBerry Messenger was however found to be tied closer with instigating violence during the riots, than any other service.

Legislators, particularly during recent times where social media was blocked by governments in the Arab Spring uprising, as well as the BART cell-phone blocking in San Francisco, are treading carefully to ensure that they are not found to be 'hypocritical' on the world stage.

Police are allowed, under UK's Civil Contingencies Act, to shut down access to a website or service, but are not allowed to snoop on private social media traffic without a court order.

But it is not social media that fuels riots, civil unrest or violent disorder: it's people, with technology acting as the conduit to behaviour. Let us not forget that the collective effort of Facebook brought together hundreds of people to clean the streets of London following the riots.

Last week, the UK government was accused of 'double standards' over Cameron's words, compared to the statements made by politicians, that the British web would always be free and open.
Yet, one breath of hope regarding the UK's recently enacted online copyright infringement law, the Digital Economy Act, widely regarded as a 'rushed through' bill and heavily influenced by copyright enforcing lobbyists, is seen vastly in negative light amongst the British public.

Most believed that access to the web is a 'universal right', and illegal file-sharers and downloads should not be cut off from the web. The Act can be used to ban persistent offenders from using the web.

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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