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 278.

    @ 242.bigjohnthered

    I agree the whole thing is a non-starter but does include lunch....

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    Re #266:

    You need to drop the political rhetoric. The NHS and education are far from 'cash starved'. They have had billions poured into them. Sadly, it's been mostly gobbled up by pay rises for the members of the BMA, RCN, and NUT. Their greed and the incompetence of previous governments have sold the rest of us down the river, not anything Cameron has done. Simply, he's done nothing yet!

  • Comment number 276.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    I thought it was only places like China and Libya who had to cut off public communications when the natives got restless.

  • Comment number 274.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Re #259:

    GCHQ already monitor every single telecommunication in the UK. They have for years. They make no secret of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    The ambivalance of the nation never ceases to amaze me.
    Cops too soft/cops too hard.
    Protect us for terrorists/don't stomp on civil liberties.
    Whatever the government decide to do, there will always be people negatively effected.
    We need to stop trying to please the lowest common denominator (in many aspects of the fragmented UK society) - the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    242. bigjohnthered

    You sort of make my point, we don't know the governments intention, we don't know how the social networks will react to it. This debate is a bit redundant until they have the meeting and the facts emerge..

    All we can really say is that they won't be taking any steps on debt, deficit and recession. Wish someone would though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    civil liberty is the cornerstone of freedom of the individual,do not let them take it away.this could be the tip of a very nasty iceberge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Lets face it chaps/esses... Big brother is here to stay, whether it be to watch our behaviour, sell us products or give us all the wonderful bounty of information at our fingertips we have all grown so accustomed to. Bigjohnthered is actually right, "advance" monitoring is never going to be a reality, at least not of ALL traffic, but retrospective tracing is HERE, so be careful what you write :o)

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    Don't do Facebook/Twitter - not for any tech aversion. It just seems to take too much time out of living. What I mean is, life is so short - for every hour you spend on social networks is an hour of your real life lost forever?

    As for incitement of criminal activity - there are more reasons to maintain these networks during trouble caused by a minority than shut them down that affects majority?

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Political decisions have social consequences.
    Our transport problems are due to choices made in the late 50s.
    Our housing crisis is due to making the market the prime provider in the '80s.
    Our economic problems are due to policy decisions made in the mid '80s, favouring services over manufacture.
    Globalisation and de-regulation have compounded the effects.
    The coalition has to face the effects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Turn the deficit into a surplus, as the govt did in the 80s and the debt will disappear
    Just like our North Sea Oil revenues, manufacturing industry and the nations' assets.
    What might be a little harder to shove under the carpet will be the mass unemployment, cash starved NHS,schools and ,oh yeah, riots...
    Still, at least we got deregulation

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Its only when cameron got in that people started getting depresst and worried he must have a skin of a rhino.Does he really believe his own drivel i wonder there isnt any jobs in south wales and no one has got a job either coming to caerphilly saying 30,000 jobs has been had since you got in .What a load of rubbish more like 30,000 jobs lost.Things has gotten so much worse since you came in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    There are two equal sides to this story. Government cannot restrict access to "social networks", it is totally impossible. On the other side, users must understand that the very name "social networks" is misleading. To be more realistic, we should rename them "Internet Communications". Even if someone thinks they are just joking to their mates online, the impact can be exceptionally unsociable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    It does stink when you have political parties using Facebook, twitter, etc to bombard people with their rhetoric during elections campaigns, but who then decide it's a bad thing when some folk use it to do something naughty. You can't have semi-freedom of speech otherwise we're as bad as China and that's not good. Severely punish those who break the law but defend, at all costs, freedom of speech

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    All that will happen is the real organisers of riots etc. will use the same kind of tactics as the Resistance in occupied France when they believed their communications were compromised - just do the opposite of what you say. "Hey guys, there's a riot in town. Better keep well away!" It will work just as well as saying "Join in" but will make them look innocent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    1 Hour ago
    140.JonDM - What has the source got to do with it?...Are you ever happy, or do you just disagree with anything I say because I voted Tory?
    Source has to do with it because you defended government taxation, but dont much like local government. And (till now) I'd no idea how you voted, fella! Could have been BNP for all I knew! And yes, I am a happy person-Try it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    Slowly this country is looseing its democracy and because of the riots your bringing more comunist law just so you can do what you want.There will never be a big society i think cameron has worked that one out broken,sick society yes but not big just shows how out of touch you really are you havent a clue.I know i will never work not through chioce.Unless some thing maraculous happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.


    Bigjohn, without wanting to break the official secrets act, I can safely say that the monitoring of content on modern networks is NOT impossible.

    Its actually extremely simple. Google monitors users all day every day, or havent you noticed yet that most of the adverts you see online are for things you searched for yesterday?

    The only restriction is manpower!


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