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 298.

    Labour inherited a budget surplus and left a record deficit"

    True, but the deficit run up by the Major government before it brought the budget back into balance was historically high at the time. You overstate the deficit reduction of the Thatcher era too. Most of that period the public finances were in deficit (in fact between about 1971 and 1988).

  • Comment number 297.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    One of the key points is the access given to the various enforcement bodies, of which the police are but one. The Police cannot scan media on the lookout for problems: they need justifiable cause, rather like a search warrant.
    Social media should no more be shut down than other media e.g. NOTW. But the Owners, and the Users of such media need to follow the law. Let's hope common sense prevails.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    First Democracy in the World?

    Reuters report 25th August 2011 13:30


    What better way to unite all of goodwill?

    Hope for all - UK next?

  • Comment number 294.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    it is not easy living in a democracy. as the man said" i may disagree with everything you say but i will defend your RIGHT to say it with my life" watch out for what you wish for ,you may end up getting it,

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    11 Minutes ago

    I have no problem with paying taxes. I know they are a fact of life and pay for those things I use, and some I dont.

    But there you go with your defensive 'people like you' thing.. what do you know about anyone here? - nothing! So how about doing the debate a little less judgmentally - generally - BTW - +3 for my last many for yours? ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    79.Jason Mead - Plus the sale of public companies that brought in a lot of money allowing the deficit to be cut.

    Jason you're embarrassing yourself now. The sale of public companies brought in a one off payment to repay the debt not the deficit. The deficit is the difference between outgoings and incomings, the debt is what a deficit creates? No wonder you're stuck in the left wing camp...

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.


    So you honestly believe that if you sent a text (which I absolutely insist that you should not try out!) stating that you had planted a nasty weapon of destruction in an airport somewhere to your brother that the police wouldn't come knocking? Ok... It's a point of view, I suppose.

    Also, see 272 Rockabilly Red

    Even if untrue, I am happy to believe they are watching!

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    250. nieuw divil
    I think you misunderstand. These are foreign owned multinational where the UK government has little influence. A key feature of many products they sell is their unbreakable security (e.g. also used by police, ambulance, fire etc.). This is also a key USP for them, so they will not compromise it. They are just giving lip service to Mrs May....

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.


    So why did you blame Labour for recessions and the national debt in the past? You appear to be making the same sorts of mistake in your arguments as you accuse others of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    This smacks of hypocracy. Didn't those same ministers criticise Iran for limiting access to social networks during the unrest? Our leaders are complete hypocrites when it comes to alleged human rights, they are doing what politicians have always done in this country 'do as I say not as I do'.It is clear our politicians know next to nothing about technology & ignorance breeds fear & paranoia in MPs

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Billythefirst, you seem to be suggesting we continue to spend money we don't have? Labour inherited a budget surplus and left a record deficit, (excluding banks) yet didn't invest in prisons, schools, NHS or anything creating longterm value. They took the easy route forming lots of nonsustainable public sector jobs raising the deficit, instead of private sector job creation, harder but sustainable

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    273.The Rockabilly Red

    Agreed! I just didnt want to put it quite like that in case they traced me! :oD

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    You don't need to intercept every posting on the network sites. You only need a high enough standard computer system to flag up anything containing certain "keywords" for further checking before posting. (Ask the American NSA). As the old saying has it "The right to free speech does not include the right to shout FIRE! in a crowded theatre"

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    @271 - not sure if you've noticed but in recent years when the government has gotten together with [insert company name here] legislation is not far behind and often is already decided upon before the facts emerge and the public cannot do a thing about it.

    The powers that be are frightened, they've seen social media work in uprisings and now fear it.

    People in the UK are fed up...

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Having re-entered the fray after a walk in the sunshine and a pauper's lunch consisting of a bacon sandwich with Waitrose Leek au Gratin, I would like to say that, whatever your political views, few people seem to trust the present lot in power and I could still win my £20 bet if we have another election before the end of 2011. So come on chaps add your names to an e-petition right now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.


    "the coalition has to face the effects"

    Agreed in its entirety, but the coalition isn't the cause, as so many posters are suggesting. They are just trying to fix the mess, same as any govermnent before them. Whether or not they are getting it right will be shown in the next election? This is about the collapse of values, not "left or right" ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Re The only restriction is manpower!
    The official secrets act also applies to me.
    Nothing is impossible given resources, however to set up some Stasi like MASS monitoring facility that jumps into action at the first whiff of trouble is a non starter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    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."

    Plus the sale of public companies that brought in a lot of money allowing the deficit to be cut. There isn't much left to privatise anymore.


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