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Cameron Lobbies for Social Media Clampdown as Rioting Continues

It’s been a hell of a week.

The streets of some of our most populated major cities are strewn with glass shards, discarded barricades. Windows smashed, stores looted; the world’s drizzle of protest and unrest has come to a head in this country, and the government were nowhere to be found.

However, on the return of the country’s most senior officials to office after a hastily postponed holiday, the only revelations as to action on the rioting are baseless accusations of social networking playing an over-large part in co-ordination of the rioting, token arrests of lone Facebookers and rioters alike for the most petty of crimes and a ‘naming and shaming’ rampage on Twitter.

David Cameron, Prime Minister (44), recently highlighted the social networking craze of late as a viable target for riot prevention associates to check up on. The PM suggested that any instigators of violence or rioting would be blocked from social networking sites, and additionally RIM’s Blackberry BBM service, another product recently targeted by anti-riot officials.

In The Financial Times, it has been suggested that Facebook and Blackberry are bowing down to Mister Cameron’s campaign against digital incitement to riot, while Twitter is apparently maintaining a very ‘do what you want but be prepared to face the consequences’ approach.

Television and visual media outlets such as the BBC are now demanding court orders to be issued before any of their footage is picked through and stripped clean of leads against potential riot convicts, in an argument that suggests a negative response to Cameron-supported trawls through copyrighted footage in search of children to convict.

Facebook Response

The social networking company Facebook has already responded to riotous posts, pointing out several instances of removal of those posts that constitute ‘credible threats of violence’, after Cameron’s apparent blaming of social networks, claiming that they are not taking enough responsibility for the actions of their users and threatening bans to those who post or continually post such threats.

Police have deemed it necessary to track down and punish those who apparently incite violence over Twitter, but there is still much to do, as most of the riot planning was allegedly planned over RIM’s BBM service for Blackberry, a more private messenger service.

The home secretary Theresa May is set to meet the three companies at the brunt of the finger pointing by the coalition government.

A spokeswoman for Facebook said: “We look forward to meeting with the home secretary to explain the measures we have been taking to ensure that Facebook is a safe and positive platform for people in the UK at this challenging time.

“In recent days, we have ensured any credible threats of violence are removed from Facebook and we have been pleased to see the very positive uses millions of people have been making of our service to let friends and family know they are safe and to strengthen their communities.”

At law firm DLA Piper, Mike Conradi, a partner and telecoms specialist at the London business, said that these drastic measures to prevent anarchistic communications on the internet and social media outlets would first require legislation and ultimately threaten free speech.

Conradi said: “What David Cameron appears to be wanting is a police power to trawl through millions of messages – ideally in real time – to prevent possible criminal activity. I don’t believe that any such power exists and nor would I want there to be one. Parliament would have to pass new legislation and I would certainly warn against that. That gets the balance wrong in terms of free speech and security and it would certainly put the UK in a difficult position in terms of talking to authoritarian regimes and trying to convince them not to turn off their networks.

What do you think? Should Facebook and Twitter be used for posting exactly how you feel about things, even if they incite violence,  or should the police be allowed to punish people for what they post on the internet?