UK leaders propose restricting social media after riots

The Takeaway

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British Prime Minister David Cameron says his government will look into a possible crackdown on social media, after citizens used websites like Twitter as an organizing tool for the riots that shook cities across the U.K. earlier this week.

“The free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill,” said David Cameron. “So, we are working with police and intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services if they are plotting criminality.”

Free speech advocates have criticized the idea, saying it’s reminiscent of the social media shutdowns practiced by autocrats like former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Britain, along with many other nations, has regulations on its traditional mass media, but social media fall into a grey area. Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis explains that these sites shouldn’t be grouped with other media.

“It’s a communication tool, just like a telephone, or just like the street where people can stand up and talk,” said Jarvis. “So this is really about restricting free speech.”

These tools were used heavily for organizing demonstrations during the Arab Spring, and have allowed London rioters to conspire against law enforcement officials. They have also been used to organize cleanup efforts in some of the areas heavily damaged by the riots. But, despite their use, the tool itself remains neutral.

“They can be used for good or for bad, but to strike at one bad use and kill the tool is short-sighted and really dangerous for a free society,” said Jarvis. “Just because you do them on new tools, doesn’t mean that those tools should be suspect, or should be restricted, or should be regulated in new ways.”

British officials are looking at several options to end the nearly week-long riots. The BBC reports that there have been 1,500 arrests across Britain in relation to the riots.

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