Social media won’t be blacked out by government

Government won't act to censor - yet - but "police may need extra powers in the future"
Kerry Butters
Kerry Butters -

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The Home Office met with social network representatives and other interested parties today to discuss the possibility of shutting down social media during times of unrest, following the recent UK riots.

The meeting was attended by Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry officials and is said to have been aimed at preventing violence rather than gaining new powers for the government.

However, the prime minister said that the police may need extra powers in the future in order to curb the use of social sites for incitement.

“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,” a spokeswoman for the home office said in a statement.

“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.”

“The government did not seek any additional powers to close down social media networks.”

Whilst the meeting may have come as something of a relief for social media companies and anti-censorship campaigners, the debate over the actual use of sites during the riots still rages.

Yesterday The Guardian reported on the results of a study that shows many tweets made during the trouble were authored by people reacting to the situation.

The newspaper analysed more than 2.5 million tweets which revealed reactions that showed co-ordinated efforts by communities to begin cleaning up the debris left in their streets.

Further analysis of the data will be carried out over the course of the next few weeks as a part of the continuing investigation into the rioting.

A Twitter spokeswoman said the company is “always interested in exploring how we can make Twitter even more helpful and relevant during times of critical need”.

“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 that they had highlighted the good use social media sites were put to during and after the riots.

They added: “There is no place for illegal activity on Facebook and we take firm action against those who breach our rules.”

A number of youths have been arrested in the wake of the violence charged with offences ranging from incitement to theft.

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