British politicians are reportedly eyeing some form of social media censorship that could be imposed in an effort to prevent future outbreaks of rioting and disorder.
Although Prime Minister David Cameron remained tight-lipped over such an eventual possibility, he did tell Parliament the government was attempting to decide if “it was right” to stop people “plotting” further disorder from exploiting various social media platforms.
“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organized via social media,” Cameron stated. ”Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.”
Cameron also confirmed the ruling conservative government was “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 [Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger] when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”
Unsurprisingly, a number of human rights activists criticized Cameron’s draconian initiative, including Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group, who said events like the UK riots are often used to directly attack civil liberties.
“How do people ‘know’ when someone is planning to riot? Who makes that judgement?” Kollock asked rhetorically in an interview with the BBC.
“The only realistic answer is the courts must judge. If court procedures are not used, then we will quickly see abuses by private companies and police… David Cameron must be careful not to attack these fundamental needs because of concerns about the actions of a small minority.”
John Bassett, a former senior official at GCHQ and now a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, expressed similar sentiments.
“The use of social media in the unrest looks like a game-changer,” he told Reuters. “But any attempt to exert state control over social media looks likely to fail.”