Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London Riots and Defence of Public Social Network


High tweeting near the centers of government in London after 3 days of riots, much which clearly was instigated and even planned on social networks.

"However, the most powerful and up-to-the-minute rallying appears to have taken place on a more covert social network: BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)

"Using BlackBerry handsets – the smartphone of choice for the majority (37%) of British teens, according to last week's Ofcom study – BBM allows users to send one-to-many messages to their network of contacts, who are connected by 'BBM PINs'. For many teens armed with a BlackBerry, BBM has replaced text messaging because it is free, instant and more part of a much larger community than regular SMS.

"And unlike Twitter or Facebook, many BBM messages are untraceable by the authorities (which is why, in large part, BBM is so favoured by Emirati teens to spread illicit gossip about officialdom)."

Generally privacy is treated as an unconditional good. I even recall attending a new media discussion where someone proposed a mobile phone device for young people based on PGP. The reason: concerned for young people's privacy.

At that time my response is that it is key that the Internet respect all the rights people already have in civil society, but not mindlessly grant rights beyond what is possible in reality. As I recall that didn't go over well. Generally advocates of social media privacy dismiss out of hand concerns for crime.

But the potential of social media to be used for crime were brought home in London riots. London has seen the first network riot, with attackers able to find locations and move in an agile way from location to location using bikes, small cars and mobile phones.

Frankly social media did not have a very good day. But before you attack Facebook and Twitter we would ask you to consider that BBM was the primary tool. BBM is very different than Twitter. BBM came out of the business community, it is a social media tool for people who want to make plans in private.

According the to Guardian reporting this private tool designed for business collaboration was an idea tool for rioters. A public tool like Twitter and Facebook was less useful. For example there was a Facebook group by someone claiming to be in Liverpool. This page tried to encourage people to riot in Liverpool. That is a terrible use of social media. But the open platform meant that people could identify the site on Twitter and very quickly people were encouraging others to report the site to Twitter.

Perhaps more important police and civil authority can see what is going on with Twitter. Many people under normal conditions see this as a negative thing, but is it. We in the west live under normal conditions of social order and stability. The main problem with prosperity and stability is it is taken for granted.

But what we saw in London is a new kind of social instability. Riots now can move in an agile way and Web 3.0 gives these groups way to self organize. In London the combination of privacy and economic hardship have made for a nightmare.

We need to make a realistic assessment in the light of London. We all have a right to privacy, but this right is not an absolute in the age of web 3.0 technology.

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