The Threat of Ignorance

The Metropolitan Police admits it was outmanoeuvred by the fluidity of social media, but it still ignores them. There is no nationwide BBM PIN for well meaning BlackBerry owners to contact police and Twitter remains alien to many forces. Most notable is @metpoliceuk, which has made 565 tweets in two years (many in the last few days) and it is a broadcast only account having no interaction with the public. There are exceptions, but for every good example there is a rotten egg. (update: credit to @gmpolice for excellent Twitter use in the last 24 hours). That said even the best examples come largely in reaction to the riots rather than having been in place long before them. If social media is being recognised as the tool of choice for lawbreakers, it needs to be one of the weapons of choice for law enforcement.

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The same should be said for politicians, but sadly this looks the most forlorn. It is said you lead by example, but in this case there is no worse example than David Cameron. "The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits make a tw*t" he glibly joked in an interview with Absolute Radio in 2009. Two years later the joke rings hollow yet his comments this week suggest his understanding hasn't improved. Cameron and the Conservatives are far from alone. It was Labour who showed its misunderstanding of Internet usage with the Digital Economy Act and Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis says he supports a review to "prevent abuse of social media". Understanding social media would help him realise such generalisations are unworkable in reality.

Besides what would a clampdown entail? The last saw Paul Chambers sentenced in court in November after posting a tweet to a friend threatening to blow up Robin Hood airport. "I wouldn't have minded if they had told me off for being stupid, which was clearly how they saw things really, but it wasn't like that" said Chambers after losing his appeal.

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So with no evidence of a learning curve we are forced to brace ourselves and hope for the best. With the world's largest social network launching BBM rival Facebook Messenger this week and Apple preparing similar service iMessage for release in September the number of options available to potential trouble makers will only increase. For the powers that be ignorance is no longer an option.

Enarca

August 12, 2011, 4:51 pm

It's clear that you have been writing from ignorance on this article. If you have been following Police twitter feeds as closely as I have you would have noticed what a great job they have done. Nearly every Police twitter feed has increased its followers tenfold in the last few days. They have had extensive communication with the public, both reassuring them and gaining information form them about potential riots or those encouraging rioting on social networks. As a result, they have had unanimously positive feedback from the public.

The original premise of your argument is correct, social media can be used for good, but your attack of the Police is wholly unjustified and displays your own ignorance. Just check the twitter feeds of @gmpolice @wmpolice @nottspolice and even those areas that weren't affected by riots like @hantspolice and @sussex_police. Check the feeds, and moreover check the reaction from the public especially from 9-10th August.

Gordon394

August 12, 2011, 5:16 pm

@Enarca - unfortunately you are replying from a position of ignorance. The article actually praises @gmpolice in a specific update referring to its tweets over the last 24 hours. It also gives links to good examples of police Twitter use. How they have stepped up their game during the riots is commendable.

Unfortunately if you actually spend the time to look prior to that at feeds from the likes of @metpoliceuk you will see it is nothing more than a broadcast site with no public interaction. In fact @metpolice had only made 300 tweets in two years prior to the riots.

I am glad many forces are now improving their use of Twitter, but for most it comes only as a reaction when it should have been in place long before them. This is the point of the article: proactive vs reactive.

The continued lack of a specific police BBM PIN is also a significant omission.

Disgrace

August 12, 2011, 9:22 pm

Another good article Gordon and fully agreed.

However, you perhaps should have cemented your point better by highlighting the contrast between the UK and the likes of Bahrain, and as a result, the hypocrisy the government is clearly showing. In the space of merely five months, the government have forgotten the power of good these social networks did for the people of countries such as Bahrain and Egypt. To enforce bans upon the sites would be an act of which they had previously condemned of other governments, regardless of whether the people have a legitimate cause to rebel or not.

Blaming the social networks is absolutely nonsensical, baseless but entirely predictable of mindless leaders. The blame lies with to what ends people use them. In Bahrain, to gain democracy. In the UK, to loot and spread fear. That is a society issue, the responsibility to which the government is trying to wash away.

The hypocrisy is nigh on unbelievable.

jingyeow

August 12, 2011, 9:52 pm

Gordon - Irony. You yourself were advocating BBM be shut down on Twitter similar to the Tech Crunch writer Mike Butcher. In the latter case his tweets disappeared and a near identikit article like this appeared. http://eu.techcrunch.com/2011/08/11/absolute-explosion-%E2%80%94-how-blackberry-bbm-fed-the-riots-says-contact/

If you're going to change your opinion so rapidly, at least include a disclaimer. It makes it difficult to read an article like this and not question the integrity of the writer.

RJB

August 13, 2011, 1:16 pm

You said "It is no easier to ban access to them than to ban free speech itself ".

The UK has no laws protecting free speech - Isn't it time we had a Bill of Rights?

scotw

August 13, 2011, 3:19 pm

Good article, we need to stand against our politicians whose stock answer over the last 15 years has been "ban it" whenever they encounter something they don't like or don't understand.

Social media is not to blame, poor job prospects, lack of discipline in schools, education targets, soft-touch policing, benefits culture all have a part to play in the riots - social media- no.

Gordon394

August 15, 2011, 5:26 am

That's a can of worms. There are certainly arguments to be made for it.

Being pedantic, my argument is that it is hard to ban free speech - not that we have a specific law protecting it ;)

Gordon394

August 15, 2011, 5:28 am

You're right, the causes for the riots are numerous. For too many to get into here. But blanket bans have very rarely been the answer to anything.

Gordon394

August 15, 2011, 5:30 am

That's a valid point, but it lacks context. The tweet you mention was posted at the height of the riots when - and I think you will agree - the live TV coverage across multiple channels was suggesting them closer to World War 3. In this light shutting down BBM would have been beneficial.

As the dust settled and the real picture emerged: not a violent demonstration against a shooting, but teenage looting so does my opinion. I can only work with the facts as given at any one moment. It would be far worse not to change personal opinion when presented with new evidence.

I cannot answer for Mike (a good friend), but I chose not to remove my tweet. It is what I felt at the time, as is this editorial now more information is available.

Daniel Gerson

August 16, 2011, 1:23 pm

Well, we're in complete agreement on this one ;-)

You should submit Cameron's Government to Reason.tv's Nanny of the Month award :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26hlpBnc20o&playnext=1&list=PL2DD00E99B83A258A

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