A new survey indicates that the majority of Brits would agree with their government or service providers shutting down social media during an outbreak of civil unrest in their country.
Security firm Unisys conducted a survey to gauge the attitudes of the British public towards the authorities and social media. They put their questions to 973 British citizens aged 18 and up via telephone between September 2-7 2011.
Surprisingly, 48 percent responded that they “completely agree” with the idea that “providers should temporarily shut down social networks to prevent coordinated criminal activity” during an outbreak of violence or civil unrest, and that number rises to 70 percent when including those who “agree somewhat”.
However, a snapshot of the British population’s attitudes towards social media during civil unrest requires some teasing out. In fact, when you look at demographics, the numbers change drastically: only 28 percent of those aged 18 to 24 agree that social media should be temporarily shut down, while 60 percent of seniors back the idea.
This makes sense. The younger generation grew up with the internet and social media at their fingertips, so they would be less likely to want to give it up. They also understand the nuances of Twitter, for instance, and how it can be used by criminals, but is more often used by the authorities and citizens to organize positive responses to riots.
The UK riots in August brought the matter of social media’s involvement to center stage. British Prime Minister David Cameron made a statement indicating that his government would consider shutting down access to Twitter and Facebook in any subsequent riots. However, after meeting with representatives from Twitter, Facebook and RIM, the government backed off this position.
Still, it’s a dangerous path to take to consider shutting down what has become essential communication for many, simply to try to stem a small percentage of crime. Look at how effective Twitter was in helping people during the Japanese tsunami in March.
Those who commit crime should be the ones to blame, not the technology they use to organize it. However, it would appear that the British population does not agree.