Here is a striking example of how detached from reality British authorities' post-riot social media crackdown is. The cop in charge of their social media efforts suggested that Twitter could force people to use their real names on the service. Has he ever been on Twitter?
Reports that looters used Blackberries and social media to organize during this month's riots prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to say he wanted cut off "criminals" from social media. Yesterday, British officials met with representatives of Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry to discuss "voluntary ways to limit or restrict the use of social media to combat crime and periods of civil arrest," according to the Times.
We don't know exactly what was discussed in that meeting, but here's what the cop in charge of England's social media policing efforts, Gordon Scobbie, told the Times after the meeting:
Mr. Scobbie said the group had discussed how far the networks might be willing to bend privacy rules to assist the police in pursuing online criminal activity. Twitter, he said, giving an example, could consider compelling people to use their real names instead of anonymous handles.
Anyone who has spent any time on Twitter realizes a real name policy would basically destroy the service. (A Twitter spokesman confirmed in a tweet that "Twitter is not considering requiring real names.") Since its launch, Twitter has been highly pseudonymous, filled with geek handles, anonymous trolls, gag accounts, etc. Many of Twitter's most notable cultural contributions, if that's what you want to call them, were made by people tweeting anonymously: Shit My Dad Says, Fake Rahm Emanuel, the Bronx Zoo Peacock. Millions of accounts would be axed by a real name policy, deep networks of Justin Bieber fans with names like "AliceBieberxoxo" would be rooted up. Twitter would more likely pull out of the UK than make this change.
It's not just that British police apparently have no idea how Twitter works. The justification for any social media crackdown—the idea that Twitter was a force for chaos during the riots—has been debunked, time and again. According to an analysis by the Guardian, the vast majority of people tweeting about the riots were reacting to them, not planning them. In fact the main beneficiaries of Twitter appear to be the post-riot cleanup crews who organized online.
If the recent San Francisco BART cell phone shutdown debacle is any guide, it's only a matter of time before widespread cries for social networking censorship spread to the U.S., in a misguided attempt to prevent "criminals" from using them. Let's hope our officials don't react as cluelessly as the British.
[Image via Getty]