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BlackBerry user arrested for arranging a water fight

Police are cracking down on social network users who encouraged last week's rioting, such as an Essex man who set up a water fight. Oh.

A man has been arrested for using BlackBerry Messenger to arrange a water fight, as part of a wave of social media-related arrests. As those who took part in rioting and looting face stiff sentences, police are also throwing the book at those who incited or encouraged violence on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks.

Essex police charged the 20-year-old man from Colchester with encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence under the Serious Crime Act. A tweet from the official EssexPoliceUK stated the man is alleged to have sent messages from a BlackBerry encouraging people to join in a water fight, provoking outrage from Twitter users.

Comments include, "Really?! A water fight?? Is that a joke?" and "Good use of police time(!)". The backlash prompted EssexPoliceUK to quickly tweet that "police believe there may be more involved in light of recent disorder".

The alleged water warrior has been conditionally bailed to appear at Colchester Magistrates' Court on 1 September.

Give it arrest

Other arrests over the misuse of social media in Essex include a 16-year-old in Harlow and a 17-year-old in Clacton accused of posting messages on Facebook calling for violence, and an 18-year-old girl in Clacton accused of sending an inciting message on BBM. 

Police forces around the country have also released details of arrests made in the wake of the awful scenes of violence and looting last week. More than 1,600 arrests have been made, mostly related to the looting and violence that flared in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, but collars are being felt from Dorset to Dundee over messages inciting violence.

Police in Dorset, Hastings, Glasgow, Dundee and Folkestone have arrested people who incited trouble on Facebook. Meanwhile Greater Manchester Police also turned to Twitter to warn social media miscreants, "If you have been using social networking sites to incite disorder, expect us to come knocking on your door very soon."

BlackBerry crackdown

Politicians including David Cameron and MPs David Lammy and Louise Mensch are calling for powers to block susected ne'er-do-wells from using BBM and Facebook and the like. That authoritarian, impractical knee-jerk reaction is condemned by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The watchdog also raises concern about BlackBerry maker Reearch in Motion turning over data to police, asking, "What consequences will this cooperation have on respect for the privacy of BlackBerry users?" as well as questioning the validity of the evidence if arrests are made following RiM's co-operation.

With phone companies and social networks already covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, home secretary Theresa May's planned meeting with RIM, Facebook and Twitter seems pretty redundant. But why tackle the underlying long-term causes of social unrest when you can whip up a moral panic over modern-day buzzwords?

Should those who encouraged last week's carnage via Facebook, Twitter and their BlackBerrys be treated as harshly as those who actually participated in the carnage? And are politicians right to crack down on these services? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.