The English government has decided NOT to attempt a ban of social media despite threatening the ban was coming for the past few weeks. This might have something to do with the fact that Twitter and Facebook had already refused to allow their services to shut down on a government whim, so the parliamentary decision seems moot.
Rioting To Blame?
The issue first came up when police in London were unable to control unruly mobs of teenagers which led to rioting and looting in the city for nearly a week. Rather than accepting responsibility for being unable to control what was going on, the government attempted to blame social media.
Their claim was that because these youths could use Facebook and Twitter to communicate the police were unable to stop them.
Once again, the sheer lack of understanding for how social media works is astounding. If the police had been using social media to watch what messages were being exchanged they would have been ready and waiting for the rioters wherever they went. These weren’t secret messages being sent back and forth. These were public posts.
That’s why the police are now able to round up those mainly responsible, using social media to find them.
Once again I would like to remind everyone that social media is a tool, not a weapon. In fact, when it comes to communication on a large scale, it is the best possible tool available.
In a meeting Thursday with representatives from Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry-maker RIM, British officials made it clear that they will not restrict social media use during times of chaos.
“This was a dialogue about working together to keep people safe rather than about imposing new restrictions on Internet services,” a Facebook representative said in a statement.
Prime Minister David Cameron gave a reason to fear otherwise when, following riots that swept through the UK earlier this month, he told Parliament that the government was examining whether to ban suspected troublemakers from social media.
In anticipation of the meeting between UK officials and representatives of Twitter, Facebook and RIM — all of which make tools that were used by some to coordinate violence during the riots — human rights groups wrote an open letter to the British Home Secretary regarding Cameron’s comments.
Although fears that the UK would create restrictions on social media were dispelled, there was some conversation about how law enforcement might gain more access to information shared on social networks and between BlackBerry devices.
Gordon Scobbie, a senior police officer who leads the force’s social media efforts and attended the meeting, told The New York Times that Twitter, for example, might consider compelling people to use their real names instead of anonymous handles and that RIM has already agreed to provide the police with information from BlackBerry Messenger under some circumstances.
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