UK Government Drops Plans to Ban Social Media

By: Qichen Zhang on 3 September 2011

Plans to censor the UK Internet amid recent riots have been dropped. As reported last month, Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a ban on social media in light of the unrest that swept over England in early August. In a meeting on Thursday, senior ministers clarified that they were not seeking to censor the Internet during times of civil disturbances. Theresa May, UK Home Secretary, stated in the meeting with companies including Blackberry’s RIM and Facebook that the government would not attempt to restrict online social media services in the country.

The plan was first suggested by Prime Minister Cameron and involved a crackdown on social media usage in the country. Several instances of “flash looting” had been organized via Twitter and Facebook, and much of the violence was blamed on the ensuing mobilization from these tools. "Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill," Cameron said. "And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them."

However, after a meeting with police and major social media companies, the government decided to drop Cameron's proposed ban. Discussions described as "constructive" made clear that pitting the government against social media companies would not be prudent, according to a spokesperson from the Home Office. As the Wall Street Journal reports, British ministers at the meeting admitted that they did not fully understand social media and its effects. A source knowledgeable about the meeting said the following about the proceedings:

They [the authorities] recognize they are behind and were being very honest. That is very refreshing. As well as the Home Secretary, there was also the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt—he was there to say very clearly that we value the internet sector, and that it is very important to the United Kingdom; Jeremy Brown the Foreign Office, who has responsibility for the open internet.... The message was certainly not about restricting the internet, nor was it about asking the social networks to do their work for them. The Home Secretary made that very clear. It was very much about law enforcement in the U.K. is struggling to come to terms with social media, how can you help?

Instead, according to CBC News, UK officials plan to focus on "how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and co-operation to crack down on the networks being used for criminal behaviour" rather than banning them outright.

This agreement provides somewhat of an accordance with the social media companies themselves, some of whom were hesitant to even send representatives to attend. Before meeting with Britain's top culture and IT secretaries, it was reported that Twitter did not want to send representatives to speak with May but “would be happy to listen.”