One of the major talking points in the UK over the last couple of weeks has been the riots that saw much destruction and theft across London and other cities. Social media was not so much held responsible for the acts committed, but it was broadly acknowledged that some communication technologies were used to coordinate movements by groups or rioters and looters.
This week representatives from Twitter, Facebook and RIM (Research In Motion – the maker of Blackberry) met with government officials at the Home Office. The consensus from all parties was that the talks were “positive and productive“, and it will come as a relief to many that the government and police have not sought to any new powers to shut down social networks in times of crisis.
A Twitter spokeswoman said “We’ve heard from many that Twitter is an effective way to distribute crucial updates and dispel rumours in times of crisis or emergency.” Facebook were also quoted as saying “There is no place for illegal activity on Facebook and we take firm action against those who breach our rules.”
RIM’s take on the meeting was that they “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.”
Despite the fact that social media was used to incite and help coordinate the destructive and illegal behaviour, it has also been a huge help in bringing the perpetrators to justice. 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.
So at the moment there are no plans to have a blanket shut down of social networking in the UK when a select few individuals decide to try to ruin everything for the well-behaved majority.