Yesterday the UK Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that action might be taken to limit the use of several social media platforms in order to reduce their use by rioters.
While the public safety and law enforcement perspective of this approach is fully understandable, it strikes me (and others) that the same platforms that have been praised by the western world as a vehicle of democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries where people have organized protests against their government, are now an evil tool in the wrong hands.
It is particularly ironic in a country whose government is incredibly active on the open data and open government front, with people of the caliber of Tim Berners-Lee, Martha Fox, Mike Bracken, hired in high-level advisor and executive positions.
Social media certainly provides a powerful tool for rioters, protesters, even terrorists to organize. However let’s not forget that this was already the case with cellphones and text messages in some of the early anti-G8 protests a decade ago, and that all these communications leave traces that law enforcement authorities can use to both prosecute and – more importantly – predict events. Police forces around the world understand this and are looking at how to use technology to analyze and detect patterns on social media.