Home Office Meets Social Media Experts

Home Secretary Theresa MayBritish Home Secretary Theresa May had a meeting with officials in the social media market yesterday at a time when the government is debating on if it should ban people from using social-networking sites during or after periods of crises. Some officials who attended the meeting included those from Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion, which created the BlackBerry, as well as top police officers and others within the government.

The talks come after England was swept by rioting earlier this month, with protesters making plans via social media. Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that social-networking would be limited during the unrest, telling Parliament that they needed to stop people from using social media for violence.

The Home Office said that, despite the talks, the government didn’t try to gain anymore power to close down social media networks. The Thursday gathering was about if they should have the power to limit social media use when violence, criminality and disorder is being plotted, and if so, how this should be implemented. Social-networking isn’t a cause of the recent turmoil, but did allow criminals to communicate. They are working with officers to see what they can do to prevent access to services like this by users known to take criminal action and create disorder. The meeting aimed to build on the existing cooperation and relationships between law enforcement and the networks to crack down on how social media is used for criminal behaviour, it added.

Recently, 20-year-old Jordan Blackshaw and 22-year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan wre named by Cheshire Police as urging people to riot via Facebook posts. The two men were sentenced to four years in prison just last week for doing so, even though a police spokeswoman said that their posts didn’t result in any rioting. Judge Elgan Edwards said during the sentencing that she hopes the jail time will deter others from doing the same thing. Assistant Chief Constable Phil Thompson commented that technology had been used to bring people together and as an incentive for criminal acts.

Meanwhile, a human rights coalition – which includes groups like Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International – has written to May about concerns the new measures will overextend powers in ways that would be openly exposed to abuse. They also believe it could undermine privacy and restrict legitimate, free expression and communication.

It’s believed that social media companies argued in the meeting that better monitoring of their websites with law enforcement will be the best way to regulate such issues. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are expected to push for current arrangements to be maintained, which entails messages of violence being taken down and reported to authorities. They, and other sites, are already obligated to disclose the private messages of a user if police request the details. They also have to take down material if authorities notify them of it.




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