As the riots continue to rage throughout London, officials are looking for someone -- or something -- to blame. Social Media is currently under the hottest fire, with networks like Facebook and Twitter being used to incite acts of crime and violence.
The London riots began Saturday following a protest over the shooting and killing of Tottenham resident Mark Duggan by police. Dozens of officers have been injured over the last five days, and over 1,000 citizens have been arrested for related crimes -- some as young as 11 years old.
Could social media be to blame? News of the riots spread like wildfire over popular networks, complete with photos of looters, burning cars and evidence of planned attacks. A recent report from Experian Hitwise shows how traffic to Twitter has spiked since the riots began:
As a result, British Prime Minister David Cameron made the following statement:
Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media. 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. 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. I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers.
U.K. officials are currently considering either banning specific users from sites like Twitter and Facebook, or blocking these sites entirely.
The latter option is fairly daunting, as successfully creating a way to block access to such giants -- even temporarily -- would take a lot of work. Doing so would also shut out the positive effects that social media can have during tough times, such as how it was used to coordinate demonstrations against Middle Eastern regimes and campaign for Saudi women's right to drive.
In this case, the use of Twitter accounts and mobile phones could help authorities track and identify the wrong doers and restore calm in the capital. "David Cameron must be careful not to attack these fundamental needs because of concerns about the actions of a small minority," said Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group.
But following five whole nights of ugly rioting, Cameron's pledge to restore order is being taken to an extreme that will potentially intervene on public privacy and freedom of expression.