During the London riots — and indeed, all around the world — social media is becoming something of a double-edged sword for authorities as it allows dissenters to connect with one another as easily as it lets you share videos of popcorn being shot out of a cannon and the like.
Governments trying to shut down folks who are looting and setting cars on fire and throwing what-have-you at the police is nothing new. Back in January, Egypt even went so far as to turn off Internet access entirely during the country's political revolts.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron isn't looking to enact a policy so severe, but in the wake of London's cooling violence, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are definitely being scrutinized as threats during a time of upheaval.
This is what Cameron said in a statement to Britain's parliament:
"Mr. Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organized via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So 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."
During the riots, Research In Motion — the BlackBerry people — as well as U.K. telecom providers T-Mobile and Orange all worked with authorities to help the police identify who was actively participated in the "violence, disorder and criminality" that swept that nation.
Only time will tell how this shakes out and how Facebook, Twitter and other social networks (and even communication by phone in general) are all seen in during times of dissent, and if it'll be seen as a protective service or a violation of rights. It's very possible for governments to take away the access of people in this manner, just as possible as it is for those people to circumvent such limitations.
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