Executives at the main social media networks and messaging outlets – Facebook, Twitter and RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) – are set to meet home secretary Theresa May today, to discuss their products’ usage in the UK riots.
Two weeks ago, rioters caused destruction across London and later Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Nottingham, often using the social networks to organise large groups of people to join in.
Suspects have been handed tough sentences for inciting violence on the social networks. The government is also considering steps to block suspected rioters’ access to the social networks, an announcement that was followed by an angry response from human rights groups.
Facebook has said that it is looking forward said “to meeting with the home secretary to explain the measures we have been taking to ensure that Facebook is a safe and positive platform for people in the UK at this challenging time”. RIM has co-operate with police in riot investigations, and could be compelled to hand over messaging data. Twitter is yet to publicly comment.
A Home Office spokeswoman told the BBC today that the talks would explore "whether and how we should be able to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality".
The Metropolitan Police has said it pre-empted attacks on Oxford Street in London and elsewhere, after communications with Twitter and RIM’s Blackberry Messenger Service.
An analysis by the Guardian of 2.5 million tweets over the days in which the riots erupted, however, suggests that far from Twitter being used to coordinate riots, traffic spiked in response to the first confirmed mainstream media reports of street disturbances.
The social network was though extensively used to coordinate the community clean up efforts in the aftermath of the riots.