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David Cameron Suggests Preventing Rioters From Accessing Social Media

Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in the wake of the shocking riots across England, has proposed banning people from social media platforms if they can be shown to be engaging in or plotting criminal activities.

Cameron (and several other politicians and commentators) have taken notice of the way social media and communications platforms were used throughout the riots to encourage and c0-ordinate rioting, looting and other criminal activities. The Blackberry messenger service, which is a closed network (meaning police and other authorities can’t view the messages being sent), as well as hugely popular social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, are all thought to have been instrumental in the co-ordination of ant-social behaviour. The platforms are also widely thought to be a significant factor in how quickly the disturbances spread across the country.

In an attempt to prevent future widespread riots and other criminal activities, Cameron has suggested he will reach out directly to the social media services themselves, hoping he can find a suitable solution to the way this kind of civil unrest can be stirred by communication on the platforms.

In his statement to Parliament yesterday morning, Cameron said:

Everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck 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. We are working with the police, the intelligence services and [social media] 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.

It certainly seems like a good idea to prevent those convicted of violent criminal behaviour from accessing social media platforms for a specified amount of time, but pre-emptively banning people suspected of plotting such disturbances could prove to be a difficult task, both in terms of the law and the logistics of enforcing such a ban. Sure, you can block names, phone numbers and IP addresses, but what about when someone banned from social media tries to set up an account with a fake name, address and number from an internet cafe? Or from a friends house?

Cameron obviously recognises these logistical difficulties, and has told reporters that Home Secretary Theresa May will be meeting with representatives from Facebook and Twitter (as well as RIM, developers of the Blackberry handset), to discuss the potential ruling, as well as the responsibilities of the platforms when it comes to social unrest.



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