Facebook and Twitter yesterday were scheduled to meet with riot-spooked British officials to discuss how social networks can play roles in keeping people safe during civil unrest.
The focus of a lunchtime meeting with the British Home Secretary has shifted from the notion of blocking social networks during riots to how police can use them to inform law-abiding citizens and track down wrong-doers.
“We look forward to meeting with 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,” Facebook said in an e-mail response to an inquiry. “In recent days, we have ensured any credible threats of violence are removed from Facebook, and we have been pleased to see the very positive uses millions of people have been making of our service to let friends and family know they are safe, and to strengthen their communities.”
Representatives of popular microblogging service Twitter and Canada-based BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion are also scheduled to take part in the hour-long meeting.
In the wake of riots, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested cutting off social networking services used by people causing trouble in the streets.
“Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill,” Cameron said in recorded official remarks. “We are working with police, intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these Web sites and services when they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”
Facebook opposes any ban on its services and was set to stress at the meeting how social media can be a tool for public safety and crime fighting.
BlackBerry is taking part because messages sent using its service are encrypted, thwarting efforts by police to intercept communications between rioters.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair on Sunday attacked claims that “moral decline” was behind this month’s riots, warning talk of a broken society could ruin the country’s reputation abroad.
In a rare intervention in domestic politics since leaving power, Blair also warned that flawed analysis by politicians risked producing the wrong policy responses to the violence.
The former Labour leader said the real cause of the unrest, which erupted in London before spreading to other English cities in four nights of mayhem, was groups of disaffected youths outside the mainstream.