Following riots in a number of English cities earlier this month, Facebook and other social media sites have come under close scrutiny, with prime minister David Cameron announcing plans to somehow ban those suspected of planning disturbances from using social media networks.
Any such ban, however, came too late for Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan. The two men, both in their early twenties and from near Manchester, were each given four-year prison terms on Tuesday for trying to incite disorder using Facebook. The separate incidents took place during the recent disturbances across England.
According to a Guardian report, neither of their Facebook posts resulted in any disturbances. In fact, the Independent reported that Blackshaw was “the only person who turned up to his own riot,” at which point he was promptly arrested by police.
No one, not even Sutcliffe-Keenan himself, turned up at the riot that he’d tried to organize through Facebook.
The Guardian report quotes the words of Cheshire police’s assistant chief constable Phil Thompson, who said: “If we cast our minds back just a few days to last week and recall the way in which technology was used to spread incitement and bring people together to commit acts of criminality, it is easy to understand the four year sentences that were handed down in court today.”
He added: “In Cheshire, we quickly recognised the impact of the situation on our communities and the way in which social media was being used to promote and incite behaviour that would strike fear into the hearts of our communities.”
BlackBerry Messenger also got a lot of flak for its apparent use in the riots. The private messaging service was believed to have been used by some rioters to keep in touch and organize disturbances.
It hasn’t all been negative publicity for the social network sites and web in general though. A Twitter account called @riotcleanup quickly attracted thousands of followers and helped to coordinate clean-up efforts across the country in the wake of the riots.
A web campaign helped to raise more than $50,000 (£30,000) for north London barber Aaron Biber, 89, after his barber shop was trashed in the riot. In a show of support, one of England’s top soccer players, Peter Crouch, turned up at Aaron’s shop on Tuesday for a trim.
So far more than 1,200 people have appeared in court in connection with the disturbances which took place over four nights earlier this month.