Two men in North West England have been sentenced to four years in prison for using Facebook to incite others to riot, although neither man's actions resulted in any rioting.
Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan have each been sentenced to four years in jail for using Facebook to incite others to riot. Photo credit: Cheshire Constabulary
Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were sentenced at Chester Crown Court on Tuesday, a week after mob violence struck many parts of the UK. The riots and lootings had prompted prime minister David Cameron to say that those "using social media for violence" had to be stopped.
"If we cast our minds back just a few days to last week and recall the way in which technology was used to spread incitement and bring people together to commit acts of criminality, it is easy to understand the four-year sentences that were handed down in court today," assistant chief constable Phil Thompson of the Cheshire Constabulary said in a statement.
Thompson added that the constabulary had "adopted a robust policing approach using the information coming into the organisation to move quickly and effectively against any person whose behaviour was likely to encourage criminality".
The sentences passed down today recognise how technology can be abused to incite criminal activity.– Phil Thompson, Cheshire Constabulary
According to a report in The Guardian, Blackshaw had set up a Facebook event called "Smash Down in Northwich Town" for the night of 8 August, while Sutcliffe-Keenan had created a page called "The Warrington Riots". Nobody came to Blackshaw's event, except for police officers who arrested him. Sutcliffe-Keenan's page was taken down after a day, and also did not result in any rioting.
"The sentences passed down today recognise how technology can be abused to incite criminal activity and sends a strong message to
potential troublemakers about the extent to which ordinary people value safety and order in their lives and their communities," Thompson said. "Anyone who seeks to undermine that will face the full force of the law."
The crackdown on the use of social media to incite violence has also resulted in a man being charged for using BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to organise a water fight.
On Wednesday, Blackshaw's solicitor told the BBC that the Cheshire man intends to appeal against his sentence.
Calls to block social media
The government has said it is thinking about blocking access to social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and Research In Motion's BBM — whether access would be blocked on an individual or blanket basis is not clear — and is talking with those three companies about the idea this week.
All three companies have said they welcome the talks, with Facebook pointing out that it had already been taking down "credible threats of violence" from the social-networking site.
Acting Metropolitan Police commissioner Tim Godwin told MPs on the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the Met had considered seeking legal powers to switch off services such as BBM and Facebook during the disorder, but "the legality is questionable, very questionable".
The police also seized smartphones during the riots, allowing them to see what was going on in the encrypted BBM service. 'Breaking into' BBM in this way apparently allowed the police to foil attacks on the Olympics site, Oxford Street stores and the Westfield shopping centres.
As of Tuesday, London's Metropolitan Police alone had arrested 1,685 people over the riots and looting, and charged 985.
Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.