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Government talks blocking with social networks

Home Secretary Theresa May has met with Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry to discuss blocking social networks during riots.

Home Secretary Theresa May met with representatives from Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry maker RIM today to discuss what social networks should do in situations like the recent London riots.

It would appear no clear decision was reached in the meeting. Facebook issued a statement saying, "We found today's discussion at the Home Office constructive and built on much of the work we are already doing with the UK authorities to ensure Facebook remains one of the safest places on the Internet."

The social network downplayed the possibility of blocks, saying, "We welcome the fact that this was a dialogue about working together to keep people safe rather than about imposing new restrictions on Internet services."

The statement goes on to highlight positive uses of social media during the riots, including the post-riot clean-up page.

David Cameron has already said the possibility of banning troublemakers from using social networks is on the cards, saying that he wants to "give the police the technology to trace people on Twitter or BBM, or close it down".

"So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry," the prime minister said, "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." 

Radical stuff, and no mistake. We can't help but worry that this could be a massive knee-jerk reaction -- we suspect that ne'er-do-wells intent on causing havoc won't be dissuaded just because they don't have access to BBM, for example.

People use social networks to communicate their feelings and make plans, and if those plans are criminal in nature, that's what needs to change, not the medium through which they're organised.

Meanwhile the Guardian has compiled data on Twitter traffic during the riots that suggests the majority of traffic was in reaction to the disorder, occurring after the fact. With something as chaotic as this it's tricky to know how to interpret the figures, but the findings seem to suggest Twitter wasn't used to plan rioting, only to talk about it once it was under way.

Hopefully more such analysis can be conducted before any kind of decision is reached.

What do you think? Is this a knee-jerk reaction? Or should we close down networks that are being used by criminals? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook wall.