Social media talks about rioting 'constructive'

A street cleaner sweeps up around a smouldering van set alight during riots in Hackney in London More than 1,400 people have appeared in court in connection with the riots

The government and police have not sought any new powers to shut social networks, the Home Office said after a meeting with industry representatives.

Instead they held "constructive" talks aimed at preventing violence being plotted online through existing co-operation, the Home Office said.

The meeting with representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry was held in the wake of English city riots.

The prime minister has said police may need extra powers to curb their use.

Networks such as Blackberry Messenger - a service which allows free-of-charge real-time messages - were said to have enabled looters to organise their movements during the riots, as well as inciting violence in some cases.

Criminal behaviour

Following Thursday's meeting, a Home Office spokeswoman said: "The home secretary, along with the Culture Secretary and Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne, has held a constructive meeting with Acpo (the Association of Chief Police Officers), the police and representatives from the social media industry.

"The discussions looked at how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and co-operation to prevent the networks being used for criminal behaviour.

Nick Clegg: ''We are not going to become like Iran or China. We are not going to suddenly start cutting people off''

"The government did not seek any additional powers to close down social media networks."

Dispelling rumours

Prime Minister David Cameron has also said the government would look at limiting access to such services during any future disorder.

A Twitter spokeswoman said after the meeting that it was "always interested in exploring how we can make Twitter even more helpful and relevant during times of critical need".

She added: "We've heard from many that Twitter is an effective way to distribute crucial updates and dispel rumours in times of crisis or emergency."

A Facebook spokesperson said: "We welcome the fact that this was a dialogue about working together to keep people safe rather than about imposing new restrictions on internet services."

The company said it had highlighted the role Facebook played during the riots, such as people staying in contact and organising the clean-up.

"There is no place for illegal activity on Facebook and we take firm action against those who breach our rules."

A spokesman for Blackberry maker Research In Motion said the meeting was "positive and productive".

The company said: "We were pleased to consult on the use of social media to engage and communicate during times of emergency. RIM continues to maintain an open and positive dialogue with the UK authorities and continues to operate within the context of UK regulations."

A number of people have appeared in court in recent weeks for organising or attempting to organise disorder on social networks.

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan and Jordan Blackshaw Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan and Jordan Blackshaw were jailed for four years for incitement on Facebook

Jordan Blackshaw, 21, from Marston, Cheshire, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, from Warrington, Cheshire, were jailed for four years for online incitement.

Blackshaw had created a Facebook event entitled "Smash Down Northwich Town" while Sutcliffe-Keenan set up a Facebook page called "Let's Have a Riot in Latchford". Both have said they will appeal.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old David Glyn Jones, from Bangor, north Wales, was jailed for four months after telling friends "Let's start Bangor riots" in a post that appeared on Facebook for 20 minutes.

And Johnny Melfah, 16, from Droitwich, Worcestershire, became the first juvenile to have his anonymity lifted in a riot-related case for inciting thefts and criminal damage on the site. He will be sentenced next month.

Plotting violence

In the aftermath of the riots, which spread across England's towns and cities two weeks ago, Mr Cameron said the government might look at disconnecting some online and telecommunications services if similar circumstances arose in the future.

"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," he told MPs during an emergency session of Parliament.

Tim Godwin, the Met police's acting commissioner, also said last week that he considered requesting authority to switch off Twitter during the riots.

However, he conceded that the legality of such a move was "very questionable" and that the service was a valuable intelligence asset.

Meanwhile, Guardian analysis of more than 2.5 million riot-related tweets, sent between 6 August and 17 August, appears to show Twitter was mainly used to react to riots and looting, including organising the street clean-up.

The newspaper found the timing of the messages posted "questioned the assumption" that Twitter was used to incite the violence in advance of it breaking out in Tottenham on 6 August.

Currently, communications networks that operate in the UK can be compelled to hand over individuals' personal messages if police are able to show that they relate to criminal behaviour.

The rules gathering such queries are outlined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).


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  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    In the UK in the 1920’s gambling was illegal. Bookmakers worked at home illegally. My granddad told me that when there was a police raid, the locals would bang their dustbin lids to make a noise and alert everybody in the neighbourhood about the police raid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    #4 - I agree - but if you conducted that incitement in a pub, should all pubs be closed to everyone?

    I'd would think not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    If more riots occur how will the Prime Minister find out he needs to return . from hols. Ministers, Police Chiefs and the head ofArmed Forces won't be able to Tweet, Facebook, e mail or ring him on his mobile.
    This could reallly restrict the interminable Holidays he's on whenever things go wrong.
    3 days to return for riots in England, less than a day to celebrate Ghaddafi's fall. Priorities PM?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Marnip 12
    Glad to see you back in action even if going a bit soft. Trying to ban or confiscate mobiles, ipods, computers, etc., is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted and would be practically inpossible to implement surely? The latest sentences handed down to the two young men for rabble rousing should act as a clear warning to others who might want to play "silly so and so's"

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Can't see any easy answer to this dilemma of communication networks during times of trouble.

    What is apparent, is that cutting front-line police, needed all year round, to protect the law-abiding public is certainly not the answer.

    In addition, paramedics, firefighters need protection too, year round, from the snapshot of mentality we witnessed, in concentration, via the news coverage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting the cork back in. Archaic state institutions have no idea of how to deal with info/comms tech. They can’t even control what gets printed in newspapers. BBM, Twitter and F/B are too big. Shut them down during times of crisis? Cut off the head and two more will appear in its place. Mobile network is still on in Tripoli. Twitter too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Pulling the plug on UK's, oops - English, electronic communication networks to prevent communication will be enormously frustrating. (Almost as frustrating as a page full of "This entry is now closed for comment" on HYS on a good news day). The problem with taking the hammer to this issue is that it penalises legitimate, law abiding mobile phone users. Nice in a restaurant though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    In general, serious violence in this country (riots in the 80s, IRA bombs, student riots, islamic terrorism) tends largely to either come from or be condoned by the left and/or ethnic minorities.

    Even though the vast majority disapprove of immigration, and riots, I don't see the vast majority demonstrating or 'counter-rioting' or trying to excuse of explain the Norway massacre.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The hypoocrisy of this government is boundless. They criticise authoritarion govts and dictatorships for removing the right of free expression; yet when it comes to it's own people threatens to remove the same rights to control the actions of a minority.
    The Lib Dems must surely be considering their position in the coalition over this one.
    Is Cameron becoming a Chaplinesque 'Great Dictator'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Yes that will stop the riots - we didn't have riots before mobile phones!

    Slippery slope if you ask me - who decides when protest becomes disorder?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The coalition are playing catchup, politicians always must be seen to be 'doing something'.
    This smacks of a cheap headline over actually dealing with the underlying problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    11.Billy The Bull
    So let me ask you this then do you think the person who talks about something but does not do it is more guilty than someone who does it?
    The fact is in this twisted world its better to do the crime you get less punishment than not talking about it but not doing anything.
    what a twisted world you live.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Theresa May's meeting Facebook executives? Perhaps she could 'poke' our useless moron of a Prime Minister, Dave Cameron, and our equally substandard Modern History graduate Chancellor, Darth Gideon, in an attempt to bring them into reality. Oh, and please do make full and unabated use of our flatlining economy in order to excuse total incompetence on your part, Ms May. brb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Freedom of speech should mean being able to say ANYTHING you like (however you will still have to face the consequences of what you have said, as anyone should and as many have learnt to their detriment but we should all defend the right to say it, good or bad). To shut down methods of communication is appalling, deal with the individuals abusing such communication not the communication itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Is Ms May going to don her thunderbirds costume? - I do hope so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    And how do you think that will work with pay as you go phones being available for little money and no contact details needed when brought?
    What if more than one person use the computer i guess you are happy to punish the innocent too?
    Or what if someone innocent needs that computer for work make them unemployed too i guess
    where is justice in your little world or is it just for the rich

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    British regime has been behaving like Middle East dictators. Arab countries had got one dictator, Britain has 800 plus one. British people are fed up electing servants of dictators and calling it democracy. We want real democracy, instead of talking with social networks to restrict British people's freedom go and talk to your superior dictators and invite them to quit without further protests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The options are to: a) block everybody; b) block known troublemakers; c) monitor everybody; d) monitor known troublemakers; or e) do nothing. The problem with blocking or monitoring everybody is that the innocent are affected. The problem with targeting known troublemakers is that phones can be obtained anonymously. What's needed is more police on the streets, not messing about with technology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Couple of things. 1) Are they also going to consider shutting down phone lines during civil disorder? 2) Is this not like removing knives from every household following a stabbing incident? You can't blame the tool, but you can certainly punish the user.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    14.Billy The Bull what a short sighted view of things you have.
    Just because you win today does not mean you win tomorrow.
    Also long term you never win history is the only winner just as bLIAR witch thinks he won, history shows will judge him in a far worse ( and fairer) light just like DC will be shown as the person who only cared about him and his mates not the country.


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