U.K. officials ponder social media restrictions following London riots


In light of this month's riots in London and other cities across the United Kingdom, government officials and representatives from social networks met Aug. 25 to discuss options for handling social media during civil disturbances, according to a New York Times article.

The meeting follows a controversial Aug. 11 address made by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to the House of Commons, in which Cameron noted that "these horrific actions...were organised via social media."

"When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them," said Cameron at the time. "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."

Theresa May, the government's home minister, sought to dispel rumors that the meeting focused on restricting Internet access and granting additional control to government, but Times sources told the publication that the discussion was clearly aimed as "reeling in social media and strengthening the hand of law enforcement in gathering information from those networks."

What, if any, new measures mobile phone operators and companies such as Twitter and Facebook will take is unknown as most companies declined to comment and the meeting was held in private, government offices, reports the Times.

However, in an Aug. 26 tweet, Twitter Spokesman Sean Garrett said that "Twitter is not considering requiring real names and the meeting was not a 'negotiation.'"

Gordon Scobbie, a senior police officer present at the meeting told the Times that Twitter could cooperate with British authorities by possibly requiring users to use their real names instead of anonymous handles.

"Since its launch, Twitter has been highly pseudonymous, filled with geek handles, anonymous trolls, gag accounts, etc. Many of Twitter's most notable cultural contributions, if that's what you want to call them, were made by people tweeting anonymously," notes a commentary from Gawker

The Guardian analyzed Twitter activity during the riots and found that most tweets on the subject were a reaction to the riots. "Timing trends drawn from the data question the assumption that Twitter played a widespread role in inciting the violence in advance, an accusation also levelled at the rival social networks Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger," notes the article.

For more:
- see the New York Times article
- see the Gawker article
- see the Guardian article
- see David Cameron's statement

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