More than two-thirds of adults support the shutdown of social networks during periods of social unrest such as the riots in England this summer, new research has revealed.
A poll of 973 adults carried out for the online security firm Unisys found
70% of adults supported the shutdown of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), while only 27% disagreed.
However analysis by the Guardian of 2.5m tweets relating to the riots, part of its Reading the Riots study in conjunction
with the London School of Economics, found little evidence to support claims the network had been used to instigate unrest. However, the BBM network was believed to have played a role in organising disturbances.
Freedom of expression campaigners
said they were worried that Britons were sanctioning draconian measures as ever more services shift online. Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index on Censorship said:
It's very worrying that people would believe shutting
down social networks would be in any way desirable. The vast majority of social network use during the unrest was people sreading information and helping each other get home safely. These kinds of actions would weaken the UK's position against
authoritarian regimes who censor internet access. As we live more of our lives online, people should be conscious of the amount of power they're potentially handing over to government.
Dick Costolo, Twitter's chief, has stood by the company's decision not to suspend the service during the UK riots or disclose user identities to authorities.
Speaking at the annual Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Costolo referred specifically to
the UK riots when talking about the need to ensure Twitter remains a platform upon which freedom of speech is prioritised , even during times of civil unrest:
One of our core values is respect and the need to defend
the user's voice, he explained. In the case of the London riots...the majority of the tweets were more about organising cleans ups [rather than inciting violence].
It was thought that after a number of executives from Twitter,
Facebook and Blackberry were summoned to a meeting with Theresa May, the Home Secretary, after their services were used to coordinate and encourage looting during the UK riots, the Government would try to temporarily suspend the digital networks.
However, Costolo revealed that instead of engaging in shut down talks in such meetings, it told government officials that the hope is the majority of tweets around a hot topic such as the riots, will be geared at trying to help matters, rather
than incite more violence.
We are in the process of drawing the government's attention to the role of the media in the riots. Not the only cause, but a very significant one that must not be ignored. See how the hugely
popular videogame Grand Theft Auto glamourises crime.