British PM Cameron Threatens to Shut Down Social Media

Photo: PA

In response to this week’s London riots, British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a shutdown of social media services including Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger. In a statement, Cameron said, “…[W]hen people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

It’s a page out of the playbook of leaders like former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who interrupted Internet and social media service when faced with the protests in January that eventually forced him from power. Not exactly the company you want to keep.

With the riots now under control, politicians are now looking at the social conditions that may have been at the root of the protesters’ anger. Cameron, who was grilled by Parliament today for nearly three hours, more specifically identified a gang culture in the inner cities and took a tough stance against those responsible.

But some of Cameron’s tough words may be political bluster. He’s already been criticized for his ties to News Corp. and the hacking scandal. And then, as London erupted, he put off a return from his vacation in Tuscany.

Cameron is also concerned about the impact that the riots can have on the country’s reputation in light of the coming Olympic Games.

In response, Twitter spokesperson Rachel Bremer said, “Our only comment is that if the government would like to talk about this we’d be happy to listen.” A BlackBerry blog was actually hacked because the company had agreed to help the authorities.

**Update on 8/25: The Guardian reports that the government is backing off this initial call to curb social media network access during protests. More detail here.