Government u-turn on social media after Home Secretary meeting

Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to ban rioters from social media sites were dismissed by the Home Secretary at a meeting with social media bosses yesterday.

Riot summit: Theresa May met with bosses of social network sites
Riot summit: Theresa May met with bosses of social network sites

Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry bosses welcomed the new stance by the Government after discussing how to prevent their networks from being used to organise criminal behaviour.

The social media represestatives had met with the Home Secretary Theresa May, Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and police representatives.

The social media companies used the meeting to advise police to hire internet monitoring firms to help keep an eye on public web postings.

A Facebook spokesperson said: ‘We welcome the fact that this was a dialogue about working together to keep people safe rather than about imposing new restrictions on internet services.... The Home Secretary set the tone clearly that we were not there to discuss restricting internet services.’

This was in stark contrast to Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to an emergency session of the House of Commons on 11 August.

He told MPs: ‘We are looking 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.’

BlackBerry makers Research in Motion called the meeting ‘positive’ and ‘productive’, stating that it was asked to consult on the use of social media to ‘engage and communicate during times of emergency’, not limit its use.

The company also stated: ‘RIM continues to maintain an open and positive dialogue with the UK authorities and continues to operate within the context of UK regulations.’

Facebook was honest about the lessons it has learned. It stated: ‘Facebook always has rules in place (to review content for legalities) but sometimes we have to be more vigilant or react faster when there are exceptional circumstances, such as in Norway and during the UK riots.’

Twitter used the aftermath of the meeting to stress the positives of its site. ‘We’ve heard from many that Twitter is an effective way to distribute crucial updates and dispel rumours in times of crisis or emergency. People also use Twitter as the first place to get information, monitor quickly changing events in real-time, and connect with friends, family and their communities.’

This positivity could be too early for the public, however, after a MBA survey of 2,000 people found 50% would welcome a temporary shutdown, despite more than a third stating they used social media as their primary news source during the riots.

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