Why Banning Social Media in the U.K. is a Bad Idea

My jaw almost dropped to the floor when I heard David Cameron, the U.K.’s prime minister, suggest banning social media in the aftermath of this week’s riots.

Cameron believes the looters and rioters used social media, mainly BlackBerry messaging and Twitter, to coordinate their movements and propel the riots, which have resulted in five deaths, thousands of arrests, and an anxious public. He plans to meet with these companies and others “to discuss their roles during the violent outbreaks.”

“Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill.  And when people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them,” were Cameron’s controversial words.

Simply put, this is not a good idea. 

This won’t stop rioters
BlackBerry messages, Twitter, and Facebook did not cause the riots. They were simply tools that faciliated disgruntled and unhappy citizens. Banning social media won’t stop people from rioting. 

“As we saw in Egypt, shutting down the Internet simply forced people out into the streets,” Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundationtold Bloomberg. “And I would say that restricting access to social media in the U.K. could have the same effect of simply pushing people onto another platform.”

Riots have happened before social media was widely used and will continue to occur. People will always find a way to communicate and riot. Don’t make the tool a scapegoat to the actual problem.

It infringes on free speech
“Who is to say what communication and content should be banned from whom on what platform?” wrote the Guardian’s Jeff Jarvis. “This regulatory reflex further exposes the danger of British government thinking it can and should regulate media. Beware, my friends. When anyone’s speech is not free, no one’s speech is free.” I couldn’t agree more.

Let’s remember that at the heart of these riots, there is a problem(s) that needs to be addressed, communicated, and discussed. In order to get to the bottom of this, and stop future riots, it is essential that the public be able to verbalize what they truly feel without fear of repercussions.

Cutting off social media does not further this cause. Instead, it stifles free speech and inhibits discussion. The country can’t move forward without looking at its issues and it can’t fully do that without free speech.

Social media can be used for good
While some British citizens may have used Twitter to organize chaos, others used it to help their neighborhoods return to a somewhat normal state.

Artist Dan Thompson, for example, started a Twitter campaign, Riot Clean Up (@riotcleanup), which now has more than 85,000 followers. Using Twitter, he gathered more than 300 people together to help clean up areas and stores destroyed by the riots.

As reported by Mediaite, Thompson told the BBC that footage of “high streets and independent shops burning was terrifying to watch and I wanted to find a way to help that was quick, simple and practical.”

The idea has since spread to many other cities, showing a very positive side of social networking sites.

What did you think when you heard Cameron’s proposal? Is this a time when censorship is acceptable? Let me know what you think at either @elanazak or in the comments section below.