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Description: Source:   British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that the government should impose limits on the “free flow of information” when it’s “used for ill.” “When people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them,” he said then.


Date: Sept 8, 2011

“Instead of detailing plans to block criminals’ access to networks, police and government officials solicited advice from those in attendance about how to monitor the sites, the organizations said. Spokeswomen for the Home Office and for Facebook described the meeting as “constructive.”

“We welcome the fact that this was a dialog about working together to keep people safe rather than about imposing new restrictions on Internet services,” the Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement. She noted that Facebook already has rules in place to punish illegal activity on the site.

A Twitter spokeswoman said that governments and police rely on its service to distribute alerts. “We are always interested in exploring how we can make Twitter even more helpful and relevant during times of critical need,” she said in a statement after Thursday’s meeting. Read rest of story

Questions for discussion:

  • Are social media the cause of these riots?
  • What are the risks of government controlling social media in the name of security?
  • Should law enforcement be able to monitor social media in order to prevent crime and other risky behavior?
  • 24 Responses to “Social Media Scrutiny after UK riots”

    1. Kevin K

      To blame any particular social media outlet (whether that be facebook or twitter or RIM) for the cause of the UK riots is absurd. The mindset of the rioters was set despite the fact that social media was used to facilitate and organize their actions.

      As a parallel, you wouldn’t blame ginsu over the inappropriate use of their knives if a stabbing spree were to happen. Riots have happened before (think Vancouver in 1994) when social networking wasn’t prevalent and people used whatever means of communication were readily available to coordinate their efforts. Phones weren’t outlawed then, and to target social media as the cause of the riots is a case of somebody trying to pin blame on a source that doesn’t deserve it.

      It’s fair to make the claim that the methods of communication aided in the organization (if you can use that word when describing a riot) of the rioters, but it wasn’t the cause. The cause, as it always seems to be with riots, was a smaller group of people exercising peer pressure and influence over a larger group effectively. It’s ignorant to label the technology that is social media with such a negative brand.

    2. Diane Langevin

      I believe social media is not the root cause of these riots but is a convenient scapegoat. I think if a group of people want to start a riot or join in there going to do it regardless of what they post on Twitter, Facebook or Blackberry messenger. It is one thing to talk about rioting but another to take action and those who use social media unlawfully should be punished accordingly. I think the implication of limiting information is not a realistic or long term solution, at one point or another there is always someone who will find a way to break the barriers. I think Information is not something that can be snuffed out.

      I think law enforcement to a certain degree should be allowed to monitor social media if there is proper evidence of suspicious activity but freedom of speech should also be kept in mind. I believe people should be aware of what comments they post and should take into consideration on who may be reading what they write, more or less use Facebook or Twitter at your own discretion. I also believe there are both positive and negative sides to social media it all depends on how it is being utilized.

    3. Julien.Fisher

      Social media is not the root cause of these riots. Groups will find other ways to organize themselves. By the government stepping in and taking control over the social media will only feed more fuel to the fire. Although perhaps better monitoring would help prevent crime focused users.

    4. Taylor Elderton

      No social media is not the cause of riots. If people want to riot, they will get it done one way or another. People like to blame the specific tool as the cause, which should not happen. If somebody shoots somebody else I don’t blame the gun, I still blame the person.

      Risks of government controlling anything, especially a form of media, is infringement on human rights. Social media, for the most part, is a valuable tool at best and mindless time waster at the worst, it should not be controlled as it would take away the rights of those who have done nothing wrong.

      Once again, monitoring social media comes close to the idea of monitoring individual homes. It is not right, and taking away our freedom to stop crime is just as bad as the crime itself.

    5. Sydney D

      I do not believe that social media tools were the cause of these riots. The individuals themselves are the main source and they are the only ones who should be taking the blame. It is unfair to say that social media tools were the cause, although it may be appropriate to assume that they did in fact make the idea more public than intended. Social media also comes with social responsibility. I think it is fair that the two individuals be charged with sentence, since they did not think through the actions of their posts. I do not believe that social media is the cause of these riots because there are a lot of underlying factors that have contributed to the extent of these riots.

      If government were to step in and regulate the use of social media, there would be no security. Personal pages and accounts such as facebook would no longer be personal. I think the idea of government control over social media would interfere with the freedom of speech.

      It is a good idea that the government takes control if crime behavior is suspected. Although, this would be a very lengthy and costly process to have someone monitor and control the actions of individuals on social media networks. A system to monitor specific wording related to crime may be a useful tool to track individuals who may be of concern. If these words are used frequently, then law enforcement may want to take a deeper look into that specific individual.

    6. Corina Nelson

      Although I do not believe that social media was the cause of these riots, they definitely played a part in being the channel the people arranged the riots through. Facebook, twitter, and blackberry are the most popular ways people connect all around the world so even though there are negative consequences of so many people being able to connect, there are also positives such as people creating events for raising money for cancer, diabetes, or other helpful foundations.

      If the government tries to control social media in the name of security people could potentially boycott the social media and find new sites where they feel less restricted. They might also potentially rebel against the government.

      They should be able to monitor social media to prevent crime and other risky behavior. The fact that if they are allowed to monitor these sites they could possibly stop or lessen a crime is reason enough for it to be allowed. If they were monitoring these sites when the plans for the riots emerged they would have had more security and even if the riots wouldn’t have been prevented they still could have reduced the damage that was done.

    7. Christopher Rush

      I first want to make the statement that social media is a tool, albeit a powerful one. Unlike a conventional tool such as a wrench, social media’s function as a tool has yet to be defined. It is a dynamic tool that can be used in a number of ways both positively and negatively. That being said, it is up to the users to employ discretion and responsibility in the use of these tools and it is up to the government to hold those who use it inappropriately accountable. Governments must do this with regulation that does not infringe upon the people’s rights such as freedom of speech. Firearms, for example, can be used for hunting game or for homicide. It is the user that makes this decision and the government that regulates the used of these powerful tools. In that sense, is it fair to say that governments fear the vast access to tools that can give any individual substantial power in some way? A power perceived as threatening. I am not saying that governments are trying to rule all aspects of the lives of their citizens, only that they have a broad mandate that cannot be agreed upon by everyone. I believe the only middle ground is to respect the rights of the people but also harsh penalties for irresponsible behavior; you can’t control social media in a democratic society.

    8. Thomas Davies

      Is social media the cause of the UK riots?

      Absolutely not. I agree with someone if they were to say that social media serves as a tool for looters while devising plans through this form of communication but, I do not agree that social media serves as a root cause. Personally, I believe that if Politic figures in the UK were to focus their efforts more towards education, they then would be able to limit the amount of individuals who are involved in gang violence and rioters.

      It is a fact that social media is tremendous resource/tool for networking among people and groups. Having said that, I think that social media may have enhanced the destruction in a domino theory effect. Because there was an initial blackberry BBM post/message that was broadcasted to several people, I think there is a strong possibility that others may have passed it on and exponentially raised the number of people involved.


      This question is a tricky one – seems to be a very fine line between monitoring and getting carried away. As of now, I think it would be hard to monitor the people of society in a way that would be ethical. Constantly monitoring people’s personal conversations would be morally wrong. But used as a tactic during the UK riots. I think this would serves as an excellent tool to attempt to control and stop the illicit activity.

    9. Regan Smiley

      There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that social media is the cause of the England riots. People are going to do dumb things regardless of whether they hear about it through social media facets or not. That is true to say however that these tools do help people to organize horrible behaviours and help out in the rioting process but there is no reason to say they are the cause.

      Putting restrictions on social medias is a risky business to start getting into. This would hurt a person’s right to free speech and other such basic human rights. In the article it stated that Facebook has their own tools in place to punish people who use their site for the wrong reasons. I feel as though that is a good idea and that we shouldn’t jump to the government to put strict regulations down because no one is going to benefit from this.

      Whenever anything goes wrong everyone always looks to blame someone or something because they don’t want to admit what the truth really is. That it’s not social media’s fault these riots happened. It was a government and society mixture that led to these unfortunate circumstances.

    10. Daniel Bird

      I do not believe social media was the cause of there riots. The riots would have taken place regardless of tools such as facebook and Twitter. While social media allowed information to be transferred quickly and made this criminal activity easier, it would be absurd to go as far as to blame these companies. Obviously advances in technology can be used for positive and for negative. These tools have greatly increased our ease of transferring information and the positive implications greatly outweigh the negative ones in my opinion.

      The main risk of governments controlling social media in order to prevent crime would be the concern of privacy. I would be a little less comfortable knowing the government could comb through my private messages, just as many other people would. It is a tricky situation. It is definitely a controversial topic. What is more important public safety or privacy? When it is put like that many would feel that governments should be free to control social media. In my opinion, it is a little too early to compromise the privacy of what we can put on the internet. The severity of crime and its relationship with social media is not high enough for the government to gain access to our private conversations at this time.

    11. Richard Infante

      I don’t believe that social media sites are the cause or should be blamed or the riots; they were just used as a tool by some people during the riots. Riots existed long before social media was available and will still exist long after social media dies out.

      I feel that the government may claim it’s for security but ultimately they are adding more restrictions to our rights and freedoms. Social media is just one way to communicate and organize there are hundreds of other ways.

      Law enforcement should be able to monitor social media sites. As long as they are not invading our privacy and respect peoples accounts. Some social media makes it available for all to look at your accounts so law enforcement isn’t doing anything wrong by monitoring accounts are freely assessable.

    12. Jesse Wall

      Are social media the cause of the riots?

      The rioters most likely had this idea prior to using any sort of social media. Social Media only acts as a messenger for people to communicate and share things quickly between each other. Yes; the riot happened faster due to these medias such as Facebook, Twitter or Blackberry Messenger but it would be very wrong to blame them. Riots existed before and will continue to exist with or without the social media. People are always finding ways to cheat the system and there’s not a lot we can do about it.

      Should law enforcement be able to monitor social media in order to prevent crime and other risky behavior?

      I think it would be a good idea to monitor social media when suspected criminal behavior is happening but don’t know how effective it would be. You might deter some people from using the social media sites because it is an invasion of privacy; especially if you aren’t actually doing anything wrong. This would also be costly to have someone constantly checking social media site for risky behavior. It would also take a lot of time. You may see that a riot is being planned on a social media site but will you have enough time to stop it anyways? People will find loop holes in the system as they always do and you will be back to square one.

    13. adam smith

      Just like anything in this world there is a good and bad side to it. Social networking is no different. The good to it is the transfer of data and information and the connection between two or more parties, this connects the world and allows us to do things worldwide and at an incredible rate we can do business or connect with friends and family. But on the other hand it can connect people who have bad or criminal motives it also can leave people open and venerable for predators. Things like the riot could or could not be traced back to networking, the interaction between parties could of lead to the creation of the idea which started it all or it even could have led to the informing and spreading of the plan. Either way the government or the networking companies can and have implemented ways and rules to prevent or at least try to limit these criminal actions but no matter what they do I feel that the cant completely stop it or even at hardly make a dent in preventing the abuse that is possible. One might be able to control it more but not it without extremely limiting the potential and features that truly benefit us this fast interactive technology based environment that we all long to have.

    14. Jian Li

      Social media are not the cause of the riots, but it might be used by criminals as a tool.
      Both the government and the internet communication companies are responsible for preventing crime.
      Since the technology is changing more and more quickly. The law should also keep pace. If the law doesn’t update on time, criminals may use the legal loophole. The improper usage of social media is harmful for both internet communication companies and its users. Therefore the government should use its power to protect innocent people as well as those companies.
      For the companies themselves, they should have their own policies and regulations. Social media like Facebook and twitter are very public. Therefore, any improper expression may cause a detrimental influence. All the internet communication companies should warn the users about the consequences of improper expression in the first place when they decide to create an accounts from the websites.

    15. Alisha Coate

      Social media was not the cause of these riots. These riots would have happened whether or not there was social networking. Social networking only provided a way of contact for this particular riot. There were many riots formed and initiated before the invention of social networking. You cannot blame an individual factor for this criminal offence.
      If the government decides to control social media in the name of security, the citizens will rage out against the government. This will therefore cause a rebellion. When you tell any individual they cannot have something, they want this individual thing more then they did before. By restricting access to social networking, you will cause the people to feel like a personal right of theirs is being taken away. Therefore, you are going against civil rights acts. I strongly believe it will cause a bigger commotion and more severe, violent crimes in retaliation.
      I believe that law enforcement should be able to monitor social media in some degree to prevent crime and other risky behavior. It should not violate any privacy acts, as long as there is a information letter signing up to the network stating that the law enforcement will be conducting this for crime prevention purposes only. It should only be acceptable when there is cause for concern.

    16. Erin Mitchell

      Social media didn’t start the riots, but it didn’t stop them either. Social media gave people the ability to spread the word about the riots quickly and to many people at one time. This added fuel to the fire. I don’t beileve governements should try to control social media. The reason is that governements use social media just as much as the rest of us. They use it to find criminals and to find incriminating evidence that can be used in court. If they were to put restrictions on social media usage, they too would have to abide by them which would hinder them in the long run. People would also find ways around the restrictions. It is very hard to put restraints on anything involving the internet because people just figure out how to go around them. Governements should just warn people that although they may be using social media in inappropriate ways, it can also be used against them by different institutions just as easily.

    17. Andrew Douglas

      The government is more than welcome to monitor public postings on social media because it is exactly that, public. It is there for all to see, and whoever wants to read it is able to do so. However, when they start looking to monitor private postings from one individual to another, or start to impose their own controls over social media, this becomes quite dangerous. This is no different than going through people’s mail, taping their phone lines or planting bugs in their homes. If there is a situation where activities like these are legally permitted (with a warrant) then it seems reasonable that monitoring that individuals social media accounts may be covered under that same warrant. It is when they decide to monitor / control social media as a whole that it borders too closely to behavior we would expect to see from dictatorships that limit the freedom of those in their country, and where privacy is a luxury few are able to enjoy. If the government decides to pursue these possibilities, it must be done with great caution, as it is a slippery slope that can quite easily infringe on the fundamental freedoms we as Canadians are entitled to.

    18. Chris G

      I do not think that social media sites are to blame for the riots. As others have already suggested, riots happened long before Internet even existed. I think that social media sites only made it easier for mobs of people to come together in a “flash” and cause large amounts of damage. Although the people in the U.K. took it to the extreme and used it in a bad way, social media sites are there to bring people together and to share information more easily.
      In terms of government controlling social media in terms limiting access to the sites is unrealistic. I have watched documentaries where Police have tracked down and located criminals through the use of these sites. They have done this by using public information that criminals have posted on Facebook or any of the other sites and did not breach their privacy. I think that if someone, criminal or not, is going to post something on a social site and not have adequate privacy levels set for their account, Police or anyone else can use that information for whatever they want. However, I think that social media sites should make those settings available to their customers and make them easily accessible and user-friendly.

    19. Jian Li

      Social media are not the cause of the riots, but it might be used by criminals as a tool. Even though the social media doesn’t exist, the riots would still happen. Whether the social media is good for the society depends on how people use it. The way people use it can be guided and controlled by the government and the internet communication companies themselves.
      Both the government and the internet communication companies are responsible for preventing crime.
      Since the technology is changing more and more quickly. The law should also keep pace. If the law doesn’t update on time, criminals may use the legal loophole. The improper usage of social media is harmful for both internet communication companies and its users. Therefore the government should use its power to protect innocent people as well as the internet communication companies.
      For the companies themselves, they should have their own policies and regulations. Social media like Facebook and twitter are very public. Therefore, any improper expression may cause a detrimental influence. All the internet communication companies should warn the users about the consequences and punishments of improper expression in the first place when they decide to create an accounts from the websites.

    20. Kashika Bhatia

      In my opinion, I do not think that social media is the cause of riots such as these. There would be a question of freedom of speech if social media sites such as facebook and twitter were to be regulated by the government and give limited access to the public. Even if the government decided to monitor and give limited access with social media such as facebook, there will always be other ways of communicating such as using the encrypted blackberry messenger. In the end, people will always find another way to communicate.

      Communication and sharing thoughts and ideas cannot be called a crime in my opinion. I believe that today, people do have the right to speak their mind and if the public sees something which they do not agree with, they will take a stand. If governments take the risk of controlling social media sites in the name of security, there might be even more uproar and riots concerning the matter. For example, facebook was banned in Saudi Arabia last year because it did not meet the conservative values of the country. However, the communications authority unbanned the website after only a few hours as there were already angry citizens who did not agree with the decision made. This is only just one example of what might happen if governments decide to ban social media in the name of security or some other excuse.

    21. Lindsay G

      1) Are social media the cause of these riots?

      I beleive that it is impossible to blame social media as the culprate for riots. There mere existance of Twitter, Facebook, BBM, etc… does not “cause” deviatiant behaviour, but rather provides and outlet to enable the orignal leader to have access to more followers at a faster rate. It is an unfortunate side-effect of freedom of speech. As noted in the movie, a large proportion of people instigating riots are minors. It is likely that, in some cases, their plots are nothing more than empty threats, but because they are so readily accessible followers are quick to band together. In the case of serious attempts to engage in deviatant behaviours, other means of communication would be found if social media wasnt such a viable convenient option. I highly doubt that telephone calls or secret meetings would be deemed responsible if these channels were utilized, but rather the conspirators would receive the brunt of the blame.

    22. Jared Henry

      I do not believe that we can say that these sites are to blame for the London riots. It is fair to say that they probably were tools that made the organization much easier, but they are not at fault. A social media is an advance in technology that allow communication on huge spectrum’s to say that the government could control these social media sites is observed and completely contradicting to a democratic society. A more appropriate thing for them to do would to be to monitor them in some way. Without infringing on the privacy rights that each person had and is wanting to maintain it would be appropriate to say that they could build in some alert software that recognizes and identifies possible warning signs to alleged crimes. As we build our society and social media continues to grow it will be crucial that some warning software is in place in order to protect society and maintain security as communication is made easier.

    23. Blair Watkins

      I would definitely say that the social networks are not at fault for the riots in the UK. They are merely a messaging system that facilitated the process of the riots. It would be like blaming a cell phone service provider for a phone call that describes something with criminal intent in it’s content. Crazy people are gonna find crazy people no matter what form it takes for them to do it. That being said it isn’t crazy for the Prime Minister of Great Britain to want some type of control over some of the types of information spread across social networks in order to protect and prevent crimes. However, I don’t believe that it is appropriate to infringe upon the right to freedom of speech to accomplish the desired end result. There are other forms of protection. It seems to me that the social network sites are willing to work with the government to help control shady content sent through their networks. Perhaps they can set up an alert system that will inform the police of shady activity occurring on someones site before a crime actually happens.

    24. Brenn Smith

      I do not think it was the social media company’s faults. They are just providing a means of communication between people, not a means to organize riots. Though they do have the ability to talk to mass amounts of people at once, they are meant for communication between individuals for “social” means. In the video they also say that Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry all have ways for dealing with illegal activity on the website, but they can’t stop someone from posting a status about starting a riot. These things can be figurative, there are even songs about starting riots that can be posted lyric wise. The two people in the video who posted a call to riot and were sentence to jail for four years I do wonder about. If a friend logged on and did it as a sick joke on them it definitely would not be fair. How can they monitor these things? It is too bad that a good, and free, means of communication has been used in such a way.

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