In an attempt to install confidence in the wake of England’s riots David Cameron implied that measures would be granted to restrict people’s use of social media when “we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”.
Firstly, prohibiting social media in such a manner does not conflict with any human rights issues.Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said:
It is legitimate, in specific circumstances, to stop people using social media to plan violence and crime. Freedom of expression is not an unlimited right and can be subject to regulation where risks are legitimately perceived.
Apparently one of the newfangled technologies that caused all the chaos was the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), now for those of you unaware of this thorn in the police’s side. It is a glorified texting service, that is all. If people did not have the BBM they would have used regular texting, as I’m sure many of them did, not every person has a BlackBerry. In the age of the mobile phone communication has become easier, unfortunately this makes organising riots easier. Yet there was no suggestion of calling for police to have the power to disrupt phone signals in times of emergency, that would be political suicide, social media is just an easy object to knock at this moment.
However there were instances when social media was used with the intent to cause further disturbances that resulted in being a catalyst for their undoing. In Plymouth there was a Facebook event entitled “PLYMOUTH RIOT SAVE ARE ENGLAND FROM THE GOVERMENT!” (and save England from spellcheck apperently). Only 20 people RSVP’d, one of those was Devon and Cornwall Police. Superintendent David Sumner, posted this on the wall: “Encouraging others to take part in violence and disorder is really poor judgement, especially in the current climate. To do so is also a criminal act and we will be in touch to discuss this with you.” The organiser has reportedly since been arrested.
The point is, there is no necessity for any regulation or legislation. There are already laws in place regarding the incitement of violence and hatred. Thinking about it, social media is probably the best place for people to try and organise violence. The very nature of social media means that any plans and accomplices are firmly placed in the public forum. The authorities should be able to monitor these groups and tweets and act accordingly.
What worries me is where would this proposed ban on social media end? A search for “Plymouth” in Twitter showcased dozen’s of people threatening violence against those who rioted, all obvious acts of bravado with very little substance but still violent in nature. Are these people going to arrested as well? Paul Chamber’s was arrested in 2010 for jokingly tweeting that he was going to ‘blow Robin Hood airport sky high!”. He clearly wasn’t a terrorist threat and yet police time and resources were wasted in detaining and questioning him.
How many insincere calls to violence are there on the internet? Should we have to end each Facebook status or Tweet with ‘lol’ or ‘: p’ just to show the police that we really aren’t serious?