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).


More on This Story

England riots

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    I detest the rioters, don't accept their excuses for their behaviour and find it appalling that the recent trouble was started over the still to be investigated death of a known, and at the time illegally armed, thug and criminal.
    All that said, I would equally disapprove of any government attempts to meddle with mass communications more than they already do, where do they think they live? Syria?

  • Comment number 217.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    I have noticed how quick policies can go through goverment and made law.So there isnt an excuse for policies to drag on when it benefits the people.I hate this inconsiderate goverment and the 2 standard ways they have shown..There was no reason to cut so quick so deep and have left people in a state of shock and worry as for winter 25% up utility bills god help us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    @ 200.budgood

    Its OK if we do it, but if you do it and have oil ...... we will have to send in the fuzz to taser you with 500lb guided muntions that we cant afford to teach you a lesson in human rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    When the printing press was invented, the first thing the authorities tried to do was control ownership. Then they went down the route of controlling the content, aka censorship.
    Social media is facing the same challenge. I don't want govt. control or the censorship of the market, ebooks are a retrograde step. Amazon is not choosing what I can read. Governments is not deciding who or what I text.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Marnip, the very second you started a post with "#Dragonray" you chose to involve me... You act as if this forum were your own, and it isnt. Dont tell me which posts I can and cannot comment on!

    If you wish to have private "conversations" with people rather than indulge in the debate to hand, I can highly recommend BlackBerry, Facebook, or perhaps Twitter?

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Any lout who uses FB or whatever other "social" network these inadequates congregate in, for inciting violence should feel the full force of the law.

    Incitement to riot is equally serious whether done on the streets or from the safety of a computer.

    the gov't needs to stamp down hard on these little thugs to stop this violence getting out of hand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    This is bordering on horrendous behaviour from the government whichever way you look at it. We are no better than oppressive, dictatorial regimes if we think this is okay. Blocking communication wether in Iran or in Islington is abhorrent and neither should be tolerated.

    Social media is as much responsible for the recent riots as the telephone was for perpetuating World War 2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.


    EVERYBODY knows who "they" are :oD

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    freedom of speech only goes so far. The moment you incite a crime you forfeit your freedom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    For the first time in human history governments can no longer silence people. You have to laugh at their pathetic attempts though. Completely clueless!././

    True - but how do you react if the law-abiding, anti-immigrant, anti-rioter, majority, gets violent, too? Up till now, it's always been minorities and extremists inflicting violence on the rest of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.


    A disident hey, the fuzz are on the way around to your house to taser you for that comment, and if your disabled and in a wheel chair expect them to drag you out of it and down the street after the hit you lawfully with a bat for being an obstruction......

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    The Prime Minister: "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" How can you know, if you don't let them use it? Let them say what they've got to say, then arrest them and jail them (if proved guilty).

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Grecian_Jeff 198
    The problem with Twitter in a nutshell - enough characters to organise a rammy but insufficient to confirm personal hygiene levels.

    Sixp 195
    Indeed - I'll be more careful. I see however that the BBC HYS kangaroo court has already punished your comment with a down arrow (get a grip folks!??!!!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    There are some very annoying people commenting not on the current subject but spewing same old twaddle time and time again you know who get a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Does 'freedom of speech' really mean you can go round freely inciting and organising riots? I suspect not. It may be that the police should have the right to block users and even to temporarily cut the signals in an area where they are being used en masse to coordinate rioting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Unbelievable that the government lambasts foreign countries for restricting access to the internet and communications in the Middle East and Libya, and is now considering doing exactly the same after some (relatively speaking) small riots in London.

    The hypocrisy is outstanding. Blocking freedom of speech in the UK is a sure way to book our passage to a more equal and democratic future right...

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    190.Total Mass Retain

    Agreed, Mr. Total... It is FRIGHTENINGLY high in "real" terms... indeed, the figures are so large that I am quite certain that they are almost beyond a normal working person's comprehension.. And I AM a normal working person. I dont see how this will EVER be paid back, short of finding another populated planet to sell to....

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Reducing public freedoms smacks of totalitarianism. What example does this set for countries we preach to about human rights.

    Our democratic principles should not just be consistant in fair weather, but at the most challenging of times for which they are designed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    What a stupid notion. The police caught half these idiots so quickly *because* they used social networks and messenger services, thereby leaving an electronic trail back to themselves.

    The police have proved beyond any doubt that they will misuse their powers against innocent people (Anti-Terror laws, Kettling, etc). so no, I can't approve of giving them any more, even under the circumstances.


Page 18 of 28


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.