Friday, August 12, 2011

UK Prime Minister Cameron stirs debate on clamping down on social media to control potential flash mobs; downstream liability issues come up

British prime minister David Cameron raised a ruckus by suggesting that people involved in the recent “flash mob” violence in Britain should be banned from social media, and that companies involved should scan their content for inciting messages.  One of the most problematic parts of his “proposal” was the idea that people “thought to be plotting” crimes could be removed without any due process.

There are also some reports (as on CNN) that Cameron would cut off social media (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, maybe even Blogger and Wordpress) entirely in the UK during periods of social unrest, which sounds like something China would do. 

Curt Hopkins has a story critical of Cameron’s comments on the “Read Write Web” here

In the US, police in many states are monitoring social media for signs of trouble, as in this AP story, link.   Eric Tucker and Thomas Watkins have another story (link) about the misuse of social media in Cleveland and Philadelphia here, and Cleveland has outlawed the use of social media for such purposes.

In San Francisco, police actually temporarily shut down cell phone service within BART stations to prevent or limit a potential mob transit protest (link, also reported on CNN). 

Various stories indicate that RIM Blackberries, as opposed to other phones, were used a lot in Britain during the recent "events".   Use of communications devices to organize crime nearly always violates a providers TOS (as well as the law), but in practice there is little service providers can do (prospectively) except respond to user complaints or flagging.  Facebook says it removes users when it receives complaints and can verify what has happened.   Requiring social media and publishing providers to screen postings would bring back the old “Section 230” and DMCA Safe Harbor issues: there is no way you can have an open Internet with “free entry” and pre-screen postings for potential copyright infringement, potential libel, or potential incitement to riot.   There is a legitimate question about the minimum age for users, and technology may make it easier to verify user’s ages in the future than it has in the past (an issue we saw with COPA).

Kenneth Schortgen Jr. has a column in the conservative-leaning Examiner blaming the violence of societal decay, where self-reliance and intra-family structure has been replaced by the welfare state and a mentality of entitlement, here. 

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