Twitter study casts doubts on ministers' post-riots plan

Posted in: Censorship at 25/08/2011 21:03

Analysis of more than 2.5m Twitter messages relating to the riots in England has cast doubt on the rationale behind government proposals to ban people from social networks or shut down their websites in times of civil unrest.

A preliminary study of a database of riot-related tweets, compiled by the Guardian, appears to show Twitter was mainly used to react to riots and looting.

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Tories torn over regulating social media
In a country without a written constitution, British politicians struggle to contend with Twitter, Facebook and other social media at a time of crisis. David Cameron, in the aftermath of the riots, asked "whether it would be right" to ban people from using Facebook, Twitter or their BlackBerrys "when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality". The backbench Conservative MP Louise Mensch went further, arguing that Twitter and Facebook should be taken down during "a major national emergency".

If the suggestions appear reasonable, remember that no politician would seek to switch off TV news or demand a newspaper blackout during a riot; even the decision to switch off mobile networks during the London 7/7 bombings to ensure the police could communicate more easily was subsequently recognised as an error by the then Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.

Riots database of 2.5m tweets reveals complex picture of interaction
When David Cameron addressed an emergency session of parliament convened in the aftermath of four consecutive nights of rioting and looting across England, he quickly turned to the supposed role played by social media.

"Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media," the prime minister told the House. "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."

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