IT chiefs: Social sites must take some blame for scale of London riots

CIO Jury: 'Social media sites cannot wash their hands of this...'

Social media must bear some of the responsibility for the rapid spread of rioting across England this week, according to some CIOs.

It has been claimed that Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and other social media tools have been used by some criminals to plan their activities during the riots, leading some politicians and commentators to call for them to be banned.

However social media, and Twitter in particular, has also played a very positive role in the aftermath of the disorder, both in organising a post-riot clean-up and helping police to identify people involved.

Met Police on flickr

Images of suspects are being posted on FlickrImage: Twitter

But when asked, 'Can social media and mobile technologies be blamed for the scale of the London riots?''s CIO Jury was evenly split.

Ibukun Adebayo, director of information technology at Turning Point, said RIM should have considered switching off BBM: "Yes, it would have cost RIM a lot in subscription fees, but far less than the cost of cleaning up this damage caused during these riots."

Mike Tonkiss, IT director at Neopost, added: "The social media sites cannot wash their hands of this. They have always said what a great tool it is for bringing people together but here is an example when the outcome is not always positive," he said.

However, Linda Webster, head of IT at law firm Wedlake Bell, highlighted the benefits of social media in keeping people connected.

"All technology can be used for good or evil. Watching Twitter last night, the majority of tweets were from people who were outraged by the riots, so while social media may have been a facilitator, it shouldn't in itself be blamed. The blame falls squarely on the idiots who used the technology for a bad purpose," she said.

Nic Bellenberg, IT director of magazine publisher Hachette Filipacchi UK, also said that while social media may be used by wrongdoers, it is not responsible for their actions. "These technologies have obviously made things easier for people to keep in touch, join mobs and share information about police presence. Are the technologies to blame for the rioting and looting? No, of course not - the people are to blame," he said.

"These are not encrypted systems, so the police should be able to monitor BlackBerry Messenger and Twitter and at least keep up with what's going on," he added. "Was CB radio ever a medium used in similar situations in years past I wonder? Probably not, it was not so ubiquitous."

David Pirie, group IT director at BCA, agreed individuals, not IT, are to blame for the riots: "The technology has no responsibility. The scale is down to the individuals who choose to participate."

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