In his statement this morning about the London Riots – David Cameron announced more powers for police to take down social networks in times of civil disturbances.
Leaving aside how that would even be possible, this really is a step too far.
Blackberry Messenger may have been used to facilitate the riots – but it didn’t cause them – any more than the road system or public transport did – though they also may have helped move people around. Angry people broke those windows, not messaging software.
As for services like Twitter and Facebook – they were invaluable sources of support and information for people affected by the riots. It was localised, it provided information that neither the TV news nor the police could, and provided contact and advice from friends that I couldn’t have got otherwise. The BBC couldn’t tell me that my friend Holly was alright could it?
Cameron’s threat to ban social media is also deeply ironic because the British were among the first to criticise former Egyptian dictator Mubarak for taking down the internet during the democracy protests there. The move rebounded on Mubarak because it made people who weren’t previously politicised annoyed that one of their basic commodities had been arbitrarily taken away from them.
And for godssake – telephones and texts will still work – and if you ban BBM and Twitter, will you ban WhatsApp and Google + too? Where do you stop? There are dozens of instant chat apps and you can’t block them all.
I mean he couldn’t ban newspapers could he? What with freedom of speech and all? These modes of communication are our generation’s newspapers. They need to be protected in law.
I’m going to riot if someone takes Twitter down. That’s community vandalism.
Reactions on Twitter (it’s still working – for now..)
Cameron’s words in full –
“Mr Speaker, 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.
So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and 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.
I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers.”