I got caught this morning by the Today programme.
The discussion was with Andrew Lilico, who posted on here yesterday regarding the proposed shutting down of social media networking sites during a public disturbance.
The question on the Today programme was – should we or shouldn’t we?
I think we should.
During 7/7, mobile networks were instantly closed down. As it happens, at the time, I was stood with a Chief Constable and the Duke of York. I remember it well. The precedent to prevent those who present a threat to the safety of civilians from communicating with each other is already set, even though possibly not officially acknowledged by the intelligence services.
Social media is used for good and evil. To compare the intention of a democratically elected, heavily scrutinised Government, to restrict social media use during a public disorder in this country, with the autocratic, secretive regimes of others such as Iran and China, is simply not a sustainable argument.
A peaceful demonstration, voicing a desire for freedom of speech, or free and fair elections in other countries cannot be compared to mass criminality or violent social disorder, which is what we saw take place here during the riots.
The riots burnt homes and destroyed the livelihoods of many. One riot in London turned into many across the country.
The argument put forward this morning by Andrew, on the Today programme, that a Twitter message may have saved a person in a burning house is false and unprovable. It just didn’t happen. What saved a person in a burning house was screaming out of a window.
Does anyone really think that an individual when sat in the middle of a burning building, would calmly remove a mobile phone from a jacket pocket, select Twitter and post a message which says ‘help, help’?
Conversely, rather than saving lives, the overwhelming use of social media during the riots was seriously harmful. It disseminated information so quickly that it undoubtedly helped to spread the riots across a wider area. This resulted in the tragic loss of life in Birmingham and chaotic disruption in other major cities.
In proposing to close down social media networking sites when threatening public disorder starts to break out, this Government is acting responsibly in using such a measure as an exercise in damage limitation.
It is doing exactly what it should do. Putting in place the measures required to protect individuals and communities and to keep the streets safe and free from crime.
We must also remember that Twitter and Facebook were used to spread false rumours, to disrupt vital life saving services such as the Fire and Ambulance services and to direct criminals and looters to the areas and sites where the police had been ordered to stand back and not to take action.
To the Libertarians who are constantly arguing against the use of CCTV and the very temporary shutting down of social media when necessary, you have to ask yourself this. Is your political principle really more important that the families who lost sons, the shopkeepers who lost their business and the children who have been burnt out of their homes? In this disturbing new world, is it not time to inject a little common sense into your belief?