British Prime Minister David Cameron looks out of touch in the wake of his empty threat to ban social media in times of crisis. Thursday, government officials decided to "not seek any additional powers to close down social media networks" in a meeting with police and representatives from companies like Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion, the makers of BlackBerry devices. In the wake of the riots, Cameron said "When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them" and wondered whether "it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."
The suggestion was met with a resounding "no." Turns out social media is actually a great communication tool. As Twitter's spokesperson said, "We've heard from many that Twitter is an effective way to distribute crucial updates and dispel rumours in times of crisis or emergency."
It's true! On Wednesday, The Guardian released their findings of data analysis about how people used Twitter during the riots. "A preliminary study of a database of riot-related tweets, compiled by the Guardian, appears to show Twitter was mainly used to react to riots and looting," the paper reported. "Timing trends drawn from the data question the assumption that Twitter played a widespread role in inciting the violence in advance, an accusation also levelled at the rival social networks Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger." BBM was the main method that rioters used to communicate with each other, but their data security prevents analysis of individual messages, but as Mathew Ingram at GigaOm explains, it doesn't help to blame the tools.