August 11, 2011 7:39 pm

Outcry over plans to block social media

Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, are to meet the British home secretary to discuss controversial plans to prevent future riots by blocking some users’ access to the services.

Theresa May said on Thursday that the technologies “have been used to co-ordinate criminality and stay one step ahead of the police” after David Cameron, the prime minister, told MPs that the government would investigate “whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”.

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The proposals prompted an outcry from many social media users, who drew unfavourable comparisons with the communications restrictions imposed by authoritarian regimes during the recent Arab spring protests.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, an internet freedom campaigner, said: “Business, politics and free speech rely on security and privacy. David Cameron must be careful not to attack these fundamental needs because of concerns about the actions of a small minority.”

Twitter said it would be “happy to talk” to the home secretary, although its preference that the “tweets must flow” is well known. RIM said earlier this week that it had “engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can” but has not commented further.

Facebook said it had already increased its team of moderation staff to remove “credible threats of violence” from its website.

“We look forward to meeting the home secretary to explain the measures we have been taking to ensure that Facebook is a safe and positive platform for people in the UK at this challenging time,” it said.

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