Friday, August 12, 2011

No, Mr Cameron and Mrs May, you may NOT turn off Twitter.

Way back at the beginning of this year, the UK Government, along with all the rest of us, expressed horror when the Egyptian Government  turned off Twitter when protesters were using the social network to organise.

Now, these were certainly people supporting democracy. They had a cause and expressed it peacefully. They certainly were not a bunch of out of control idiots stealing what they could for purely opportunistic purposes like we saw on the streets of London.

However, neither were the majority of Twitter users in this country. Many people used the social network to find out information, check on relatives in affected areas,  the Police used it to disseminate information and it was used to assist the clear up operation.

It's clear that some people were using social networks to organise their next bout of looting. That does not mean that the appropriate response to deal with future situations is to shut Twitter down. What that will do is inconvenience  decent law abiding citizens. It will hold up a riot inducing thug for mere seconds as he will then move his fingers from the Twitter icon on his smartphone to the text button, or the phone button.

And you really can't shut down the mobile phone network either. Why? Because in these days when many people can't afford to have a landline, it's a lifeline. The elderly woman whose husband has just collapsed. The woman in labour. How do they summon help if there's no phone network.

There will be ways of the Police using social networks or messaging systems to track down offenders and work out what's going on and it's right that they look into that. Paul Walter over at Liberal Burblings said the other day that BBM may not be quite as secret as folk think,

It worries me that the Government is going to review the use of social media  It's up to the Liberal Democrats within the Government to make sure that any policy that comes out of that is liberal, sensible and proportionate.

It was good to see Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert stand up for social media in the Commons yesterday, asking the Prime Minister:
The Prime Minister has linked social media to violence. Will he join me in congratulating the huge number of people who have used social media for positive activities such as organising clear-ups? I pay particular tribute to Cambs cops for telling people what was happening and getting rid of rumours. Will he accept those positive issues and agree that clamping down on social media could have damaging consequences?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is why the Home Secretary is going to explore the issue with the social media companies and other services. The key thing is that the police were facing a new circumstance. Rioters were using the BlackBerry service—a closed network—so that they knew where they were going to loot next, and the police could not keep up with them. We have to examine that and work out how to get ahead.

If we respond to rioting by suppressing freedom, then the rioters, and all others who would stamp all over our democracy, win. We need to take our example from Norway who in the wake of the appalling tragedy of Utoya called for more democracy, not less.

Julian Huppert's intervention, by the way, prompted some Liberal Youth types to set up the Julian Huppert Appreciation Society on Facebook. Do go and join in the fun.

1 comment:

GHmltn said...

Too right.

This is really important.

I know that as a a liberal we can occasions be a bit wet but not on this one.

To say we are just being dramatic, no-one is suggesting Twitter is shut down for a long time misses the point.

This is the thin end of the wedge.

First it is wanton riots with little cause after a controversial shooting.

Next it is because people are demonstrating about cuts in education and there will probably be violence.

The it is a peaceful protest where there might be violence.

Then it is all sorts of protests and political action just because it could be a little tense.

Then we are no better than a police state.

This is potentially quite sinister.

The Americans have an article of their constitution that protects against this - for good reason - even if at times it can produce strange results.

We have freedoms going back many centuries in our unwritten constitution.

It is at the heart of the best things about our country and part of the bedrock that has made us a broadly successful society.

Lets look after our civil liberties!



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