Social media and rioters

The "free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill".  This is what British Prime Minister David Cameron said in the aftermath of the riots that spread across England last week.  He went on to state that "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."In the aftermath of the riots and the debate about causes and solutions, it is the use of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) that has featured highly in the debate about the use of social media by rioters to communicate.  BBM offers free texting, via the internet, for its users and is growing in popularity especially among young people while SMS usage is declining. The network is not ‘public' and is therefore more difficult to monitor in real time.  The messages are also encrypted, and unintelligible to casual observers.As can be imagined, the statement by the Prime Minister has been received with some consternation by observers from across the political spectrum.  Who would decide what consititues ‘criminal' usage of social media?Knee-jerk politicians would do well to read Phil Bradley's post in which he likens the banning of social media to the banning of roads.  And let's not forget that communities have used social media to regroup after the riots.  The ‘broom armies', for example, were mobilised to action by a simple Twitter campaign @riotcleanup.