In the aftermath of the UK riots earlier this month, government officials had floated around the idea of blocking access to Twitter and other social media sites next time something similar occurred. The official reasoning was that this would prevent people from using Twitter to incite violence and plan the riots themselves.
An analysis of the tweets actually sent during the riot, however, would suggest that banning people from social networks is a terrible idea.
As the Guardian reports, the study looked at 2.5 million tweets sent during the riots in England and found that the vast majority were sent in response to the riots, not to incite them.
It also found that more than 8 percent, or 206,000 tweets were related to the post-riot cleanup.
The home secretary, Theresa May, will meet with representatives from Twitter as well as Facebook and RIM Thursday to discuss whether or not to close down social networks during periods of civil unrest in the country. It’s widely expected that the tech representatives will urge the UK government not to follow through with this plan, and the study conducted by the Guardian would appear to back them up.
Although it is likely that a small portion of individuals did use Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger and Facebook to plan and coordinate the riots themselves, anyone who has been following the trends in Egypt, Libya and around the world can attest to the fact that social media is used more often to coordinate positive social change.
Also, by blocking social networks during riots, the government would likely cause increased mass panic as individuals found themselves without their usual means of communication.
What do you think? Would blocking social media during civil unrest help quell the violence, or further incite it?