UK riots: Having learned nothing from Arab Spring, Cameron pursues a social media crackdown

"Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So 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 Web sites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain addressing Parliament during a special debate on the UK riots.

As others have noted online today, the difference between "rioter," "protester," and "dissident" is not much indeed when those in power start down this road.


  1. The sad thing is that I saw this one coming, ergo I figure everyone saw it coming. When I saw those dimwits kicking in store fronts and carting away goods by the truckload, I thought to myself “Way to go, now you gave them an excuse to enact even more ridiculously draconian laws”.

    And there you go, now they’re doing THIS, again in the name of “our security”. This has jack tiddly squat to do with protecting us, and everything with giving them more power over something they don’t quite understand. Or so the rebel sentiment goes.

    In any case, I never read it, but does this tie into the V for Vendetta timeline somehow?

  2. What really irks me about moves like this is that they are so transparently impotent. They might as well institute a No Talking After Business Hours rule. It would be roughly the same level of sensible practicality.

    Jesus. Why don’t we call up the rioters from, what, 1985 and ask how they could have organized without Twitter? When they’re saying this, it isn’t because they’re just out to take rights away. They *really* believe this would be effective.

    1. Well, they did discuss banning hooded sweatshirts for a few hours before they remembered that they already tried that in the 90ies, and that they still can’t ban something that almost every single person in the UK owns.

      So grabbing for straws is probably too generous a saying here, should be changed to “straw”.

    2. They don’t really believe that they are being effective on these events though, they believe that, if they can put the population under enough control to start with, they could prevent future uprisings. What’s happening is just the exponentiation of what has been going on since long: concentration of power in the hands of the few who already own most of the riches.

      BTW, they could have put an end to the riots a whole lot sooner but did let the situation rot intentionally. I know, it is always frightening to think that those who hold so much influence on our lives could do that but they do very little else nearly so effectively.

      Been there, done that since prehistorical times.

  3. As much as I don’t equate the looting in north London with the Arab Spring uprisings, if he goes through with this Cameron will do more harm than the rioters. A few small riots are small change compared to taking such a critical step toward a police state. Her Majesty’s subjects may find they do not like being presumed guilty and having their voices throttled by ham-fisted bureaucrats, especially since it won’t achieve the purported ends. Sense willing, this will die on the drawing board.

  4. Our every communication is already monitored  [a ‘target’ phrase/word(s) or words within a communication] – this is a means to legalize this (at the moment) illegal practice.

    1. Monitored, quite possibly. Effectively collated and reviewed, only after the most scatter-shot fashion.

  5. Many of the rioters are now thinking, “Oh, they’re afraid of us? Hmm, how can I do some real damage.”

    And they might think of something.

    And it might not be a bad thing…

  6. No, no, no… It’s all very simple what the future plan is and it will remove unemployment in one go.

    Everyone will be given their own personal “safety officer” to be with them 24/7 to make sure that they do not “accidentally” get caught up in any wrong doing or say anything that might encourage others to commit wrong doing.

    I just wish I was really joking and this isn’t something the government would love to do.

  7. I was thinking that before the current era, intercepted messages were usually seen as a bonus. Something you could work with against an opponent, rather than trying to eliminate (and I mean using modes of telecommunication, not mass media such as books or leaflets).

  8. The problem is a “moral decay” in the UK, it starts at the top, with politicians grabbing what they can from expenses, then the banks grabbing what they can from from the public, celebrities, sports people and big business skipping out on their tax, moving to tax havens.  These are the ‘moral leaders” and “the people to look up too” but they are corrupted to the core, from the top down.  It is just a shame that burnt out shops get more coverage than a dead man.  Reflects what the media want us to care about more I guess.

    1. This is the bit that is slowly dawning on the “electorate” – that the expenses scandal was exactly the same as looting from shops, but it took the looting from shops for the parallels to start to be drawn.   
      (And don’t get me started on what happened in the sentencing farce yesterday.  Yes, I appreciate that there were a lot of cases to deal with, but you don’t remand someone in custody for stealing 3 bottles of water and bail someone who stole a television when the difference is that one of them was a “hooligan” and the other was a “nice middle-class student.”)

  9. If rioters are using BBM to move nimbly, what should the government/police do to stop towns from burning? Or are the damage/deaths the price of freedom?

  10. The sad thing that in this “democratic” discussion nobody was representing the marginalised poor people that make up these comunnities and that have been hard hit bij the recent cuts. The rich are still frolicking along in London like nothing is going on. Countless peaceful demonstrations have been simply ignored. Now the thugs have taken over and still short sighted self intrest rules.

  11. How does a politician become a politician? IMO they have been chosen by those with money and power to do their bidding and not the bidding of those who elected them. All politicians are ‘compromised’ before they are even elected. So why do I remonstrate on sites such as this? Because I am powerless to do otherwise as I am neither rich nor powerful. When politicians are paid the minimum wage and their assets frozen (when in office) or unable to take ANY other ‘post’ whilst in office, I may then revise my opinion – and I said “may”!

  12. I love that this discussion is going to involve politicans, ‘police, the intelligence services and industry’ to see what action needs to be taken.

    It’s good to see that poor people and users of social media aren’t being invited.

  13. The one common theme I can find all the governments and the only thing any of them seem to care about and strive to maintain at all costs.

    The rich get richer and the poor destitute.

    1. As I like to point out here in te=he ‘States the top 400 individuals are worth as much as the bottom half of the country.

      400 = 180,000,000 or 1/450,000

      There is some SERIOUS income disparity here.

    2. I think that’s more a reflection of capitalism old chum.  There are some fairly egalitarian governments out there.

  14. In Syria, Iran, and Lybia the suppressed opposition forms the protest. In GB it is just a riot done by anarchists and criminals.

    Yea, it is so easy.

    1. You really don’t think the first thing an oppressive government does is noisily dismiss its disgruntled citizens as “just anarchists and criminals?” It’s patronizing not to consider that these people might have some legitimate grievances, even if their manner of response is self-interested and disorganized.

      Also, don’t forget more than a few loyal BB readers are philosophical anarchists, so um… smile when you say that word, pardner. Nobody who pays any attention to this site can possibly still believe anarchism equates to “take whatever you want, whenever you want.”

  15. Also The Police can beat up youths on ‘bikes’ and that is meant to be different from the rioters – Yes there is a big difference, the police are holders of a ‘warrant’ issued to them under the auspices of the queen – A Royal Warrant – does not this make the police who perpertrated this brutality, treasonous?

  16. This is exactly what I expected, along with a future greater willingness to use water cannon or rubber bullets on legitimate protests.
    As I was watching the looters I was thinking “thanks for fucking it up for the rest of us” 

  17. The people demand a central government to take over all their responsibilities. The officials assume that means they are to control everything. (Something like a strangler: he doesn’t want your air, he only wants to control your breathing.) When the people complain about violations of their rights, the government acts to protect itself from the rebels. But the people never want their responsibilities back, not for any reason.

  18. I’m wondering now, IF the government does decide to ban social sites for ‘ill’ use does that mean they’re admiting cause if rioters do start smashing up shops again ? I can see the government being in some hot water over that from a lot of companies if it were the case. once again cameron being too bull headed and not thinking things through.

    1. Either deliberate or not, you have hit the ‘nail’ on the head – Government (elected and non-elected) think more about the impact on industry and commerce than common decency when carrying out policy. This will be ‘watered down’ and angled towards more profit for the rich and elite before coming to pass.

      Example:- Suppliers being able to charge more as these ‘communications’ will now have to be monitered!

  19. So, our government would like to shut down social media sites when things get a bit messy. We already have those super-secret super-injunctions, used to silence the traditional media. Media blackout? Is anyone else starting to feel a little uncomfortable here?

    BTW, did anyone else notice the significant drop in detail reported about the riots after the second night?

  20. The irony of it all makes one want to just burst into laughter. The so called “third world” has been complaining about this sort of hypocracy and double standard for what seems to be an eternity now. The irony is not lost on those who constantly have to put up with the preachings of the likes of Cameron when they experience civil strife. Perhaps this author puts it best with suggestions on how if the tables were turned “Africa” of all places could come to England’s aid – humorous satire but the point made is one to reflect on

  21. Pot, make you met Kettle?

    Its Springtime for Arabs but its hooliganism for Jolly Ol’ England.

    I’m sure you won’t learn from Mubarak either.

  22. Wasn’t Cameron saying just the other day how ‘proud’ he was of how many people were supporting the MET on Facebook and Twitter organising cleanups??

    Why this sudden change now? Is it because the guy running the Facebook page has racist comments on his twitter page?

    I know this government is fond of U-turns (Digital Economy Act, Student Fees, etc); but that’s quick even for Cameron.

  23. Remember when the Mubarak government pulled most of Egypt’s telecoms. Many leaders around the world including the UK and US were thinking “Internet Kill Switch, Mmmm…”, and wondering how soon they could get one. Killing the messenger was known as a Bad Idea long before Sophocles. It was a bad idea in the Illiad. Usually someone explains to those in power that keeping lines of communication open is almost always good, and breaking them is bad. I hope and trust common sense will prevail yet again.

    There will doubtless be calls for an increased police force. There are a lot of people who would like to have more Shiny Things. They will greatly outnumber the police. If they all took what they wanted at the same time, the police in their current numbers would not be able to do much. That is how things should be. If they could round up all the suspects and make them disappear, then we would really be in trouble.

    I suppose there must be cycles of action and reaction like this. It is hard to have a stable system without feedback. But, heigh-ho, it’s deja-vu all over again for us older ones…

  24. They’d have to shut off the entire Internet in their country, which they aren’t going to be willing to do.  It won’t happen, so everyone should unbunch their knickers.

    1. Don’t bet your Internet connection on that.

      All they need to do is get in with the tier 1 ISPs and out go the (modem) lights for wide swaths of the country. It is really the “only” option and you have to “do your part” to help during these terrible times.

      Most governments seem like they’re made up of assclowns, but there are a few smarties in the bunch and they are interested in screwing you if it helps their career.

  25. Nah! The men who own the government make too much money from internet business. The men in grey suits that got rid of Thatcher will pay another visit.

    Cutting of district sized access points though …

  26. They should also take away TV broadcasts during riots, so the Kids in other towns do not see what “cool” things they get up to in other parts of the country. Actually the newspapers should print prepared texts about horticultural issues and local theatre performances as well, god beware they print pictures of riots or describe in the written word what is going on elsewhere. Actually, they should introduce a law that we all not look at any media, or talk to each other for fear of the spoke word may spread troubles. Sod it, mute the nation as a precaution!

  27. “Everyone watching the recent stock market crash will be struck by how it was intensified via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when traders are using social media to cause a panic we need to stop them.”

    Some arguments are just more attractive than others, I suppose.

  28. “Newsreaders still feel it is worth a special and rather worrying mention if, for instance, a crime was planned by people ‘over the Internet.’ They don’t bother to mention when criminals use the telephone or the M4, or discuss their dastardly plans ‘over a cup of tea,’ though each of these was new and controversial in their day.”
    —Douglas Adams, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet (1999)

  29. What’s the strategy Xeni? Assuming things do rough out, as you suggest, like Egypt. Where will things end up? As of now, I see lots of nebulos, youthful rage without any real direction: which seems rather unlike Egypt. Those in Egypt had genuine, collective purpose. How does random attacks on small businessess dovetail with the police state / Tahir square-style narrative of a sort of English uprising?

    To turn your own question on you, I am wondering where you draw lines between protester, dissident, and rioter? As I feel you are also taking liberties with that defintion even as you accuse the government of the same. I think both sides are afraid of clear defintions, since both are trying to make more of it, in the name of their brand of politics, then it might or might not be.  

    What is pure lawlessness, and what is legitimate protest? Somehow smashing up shops seem rather unlike the Arab revolution. Are you suggesting that smashing up comic shops and buring indie music warhouses are the English equivlant of “Tahir Square” ? I’m not taking sides, I’m skeptical of everyone, but the poltical bickering going on in England right now reminds me of the high-stakes poltical gridlock so familar to the USA of the moment.

  30. Guyana slaves used drums to coordinate. Caribs grabbed the radio station. Hell, Burt Reynolds used a CB. Cameron’s right to bitch but he’s on a fool’s errand.

    1. This is just an excuse to put up the price on internet/phone services – “Of course we have to now monitor all communications so you have to pay for the privilege of having your privacy(?) being compromised”

  31. “So we [The UK government] are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry…”  –David Cameron…this is corporatism–the merger of state and corporate power. #fascism

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