Rather than attempting to understand how social networks work to create and/or maintain friendships and/or communities, the government and judges seem to be acting in fear of these means of communications. This evident in their reactionary performances of their policies and sentences. The headlines of recent days have been full to the brim of the sentences for those accused of looting/rioting in the UK recently. The Independent today (17-08-11) reported that

Two men have been handed four-year jail terms for setting up Facebook pages encouraging people to riot – even though the riots never took place.

BBC’s The World at One also reported that, although his attempt was unsuccessful,

A 17 year old youth from Suffolk has been banned from using social networking sites for a year for encouraging people to riot.

Perhaps this is based on the choice picks of sentences pointed out by media outlets I had seen (… 3 out of more than 1000 thus far sentenced), but it would seem that (at least) these ‘facebook riots’ did not happen (whether that was because of the police or people just didn’t turn up is another question.) However, with this government wanting powers to curtail the availability of the social networks during social unrest, it raises the question: are all social networks equal?

The network which the active participants used during, at least, the London rioters, seems to have been the closed BlackBerry messaging service. And while it is true to say that Facebook and Twitter will not be wholly innocent (and neither BBM itself wholly guilty), especially of spreading rumour, these two networks also provided forces of good. (see previous post for this).

The government’s further-reaching reaction is looking into how to shut down/control the social networks during points of unrest. Jeff Jarvis told the Guaridan Tech Blog that these suggested regulations ”

put the UK in the league of Saudi Arabia (which wants to control blackberry messages) and China, which wants to control communication and cuts of Twitter.

This is, he says, the curtailment of freedom of the press, as these

tools are our presses. It’s not just a communications tool, it’s more than that.

There is, of course, historical precedent of powers-that-be reacting to new forms of communication and understanding in a reactionary manner, so the actions of Cameron et al are more disappointing than unprecedented. Perhaps it suggests the real wants of those in power rather than the PR-friendly variation that has thus far flowered in the UK. At first thought, the reaction seems akin to Tony Blair’s ban on protest in Parliament Square.