Louise Mensch, the British Conservative MP and one of the UK parliament’s more active Twitter users, has backed prime minister David Cameron’s call for social networking services to be shut down temporarily during civil disorder.
Mensch, a successful novelist, used Twitter to call for a “brief temporary shutdown” of Twitter and Facebook to stop unfounded rumours being spread, as she said had occurred last week during the riots that spread from London to several cities across England.
“Common sense. If riot info and fear is spreading by Facebook & Twitter, shut them off for an hour or two, then restore. World won’t implode,” she said.
“I don’t have a problem with a brief temporary shutdown of social media just as I don’t have a problem with a brief road or rail closure. If short, necessary and only used in an emergency, so what. We’d all survive if Twitter shut down for a short while during major riots.”
However, on Friday, police in Manchester, in the north west of England, which was hit by the rioting earlier this week, backed the use of social networks, saying they have allowed authorities to correct rumours before they gather momentum.
Kevin Hoy, web manager at Greater Manchester police, said Twitter allowed them to give “direct reassurance” and “dispel rumours ... in a way that we could never have achieved previously”.
The force said Twitter had been an “overwhelmingly positive” and “vital” channel of communication as violence spread across the region. It has urged its 95,000 Twitter followers to “name and shame” suspected rioters in CCTV images it has posted online.
Devon and Cornwall police in the south west of England, warned against a kneejerk reaction to claims that Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger played a key role in organising disorder across the country.
A force spokesman said: “You have to deal with these things in proportion. Putting someone’s door in because of something they posted on Facebook is clearly not proportionate, but speaking to their parents and giving them advice is proportionate.”
Facebook said it had boosted its internal team to monitor potentially inflammatory messages and had actively removed several “credible threats of violence”.
Police across the country have arrested a number of people accused of organising or inciting violence on social networks.
Devon and Cornwall police made its first arrest on Friday over comments posted by those suspected of inciting violence on social networks. The force has given “words of advice” to eight people, all under 25, over messages posted online.
Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2011