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Social Media and the UK Riots – Should they shut social media down?

Just in case you weren’t paying attention to the “World News” portion of however you choose to tune in to the news – there was an abundance of civil unrest across the pond in the UK. There are several reasons why these riots may have occurred and you can bet that there are as many theories as there are problems.

I’m not here to try and figure out the whos and the whats and the whys of the causes of the riots. You can click on any of the links above or just do a simple Google search – here, I’ll help get you started – it’s a lot of reading so make sure you have some time.

Anyway, the riots have started to quiet down. Arrests are being made. People are being subjected to the justice system over there. And now… the politicians are starting to figure out ways to avoid these things in the future. One of issues that has emerged as a controversial concept is that Prime Minister David Cameron wants to shut down social networks to prevent further riots from happening.

The Prime Minister cited sources that said rioters and looters were using BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter and even Facebook to organize themselves. Although these networks were shown to have little effect on the riots, or rather – they were ineffectual in terms of criminal organization, there seems to be a fear of criminals learning how to organize themselves more efficiently the next time around.

While these social networks and messaging applications can be used to aide the negative “element” that is spurring these riots… there is also the camp that believes that social media networks are doing more good than harm.

We have seen Facebook groups pop up that encourage those who managed to get pictures of the riots to post those pictures. Once those pictures are posted – they then encourage residents of the areas affected by the riots to come forward and identify troublesome rioters and looters so that they may be brought to justice.

The local police had used Twitter to inform residents of where and when violence or civil disturbances were breaking out. They also reported arrest numbers and injuries.

Other groups have been spawned on Facebook/Twitter that call for residents of towns to organize street clean-ups, hoping to clear their neighborhoods and city centers of broken glass and burnt materials.

I even tried my hand at organizing information that could be found and shared quickly to people caught in the riot zones on Google+.

There is clearly a lot to consider – but I think that taking away the ability to rapidly and efficiently communicate would hurt the citizens who need this information more than it would help rioters who will find a way to cause destruction no matter what. In my opinion, if people want to destroy things – they don’t need organization to do it. They don’t need social media channels to aide them. However, if we took away  social media from people who are using it to figure out an escape from a horrible situation… or they might be using it to call for help… doesn’t that seem like they would be way worse for the wear?

The argument could go either way – but we’ve seen the power of social media in the news a lot recently. What do you think? What would be the pros and the cons of shutting down social media channels during a crisis situation? We’d love to hear your thoughts!