The Cutline

British PM David Cameron considers ban on Twitter and Facebook during U.K. riots

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
The Cutline

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday that he is considering a limit on social media use in an attempt to curtail the riots that have spread throughout England.

Cameron told Parliament that it is the clear the rioters used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to mobilize themselves--and to spread disorder. You can watch Cameron's remarks in the video above.

"Everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organized via social media," Cameron said. "Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill."

The U.K. government is expected to meet with executives from Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion (the company behind BlackBerry Messenger, a key organizing device in the spread of the riots) over the next several weeks, Cameron said.

He continued: "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." (In a statement posted on the 10 Downing Street website, the Cameron said, "When people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them.")

Cameron's comments recalled the Egypt government's response to the uprising this spring, when access to Facebook and mobile Internet services was blocked during the height of protests in Cairo.

"We are making technology work for us," Cameron said. "By capturing the images of the perpetrators on CCTV, even if they haven't yet been arrested, their faces are known and they will not escape the law. And as I said yesterday, no human rights concerns about publishing photographs will get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice. Anyone charged with violent disorder and other serious offenses should expect to be remanded in custody, and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail."

Cameron said that police have made more than 1,200 arrests  since the riots began.

The London riots, at least initially, appeared to have been fueled by rioters using something not technically social: BlackBerry Messenger. Young protestors in Tottenham used the free instant message service--which requires BlackBerry users to exchange pin numbers--to mobilize their numbers during their clash with police because it is a private channel, unlike Facebook and Twitter. According to TechCrunch Europe, the BlackBerry is "by far the most popular handset" among British youth.

Meanwhile, Twitter has been instrumental in the clean up of London. A Twitter feed called Clean Up London (@Riotcleanup), launched early Tuesday, has more than 87,000 followers while providing frequent, crowd-sourced updates on locations where volunteers are most needed. The feed also spawned the trending hashtag "#riotcleanup."

BlackBerry announced earlier this week that it would cooperate with police in their investigations of the riots. Twitter, though, has refused to close the accounts of London rioters, insisting that "freedom of expression" be protected, reiterating what the company said in January during the revolution in Egypt: "tweets must flow."

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