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Lawmakers Back Away From Facebook, Twitter Ban After British Riots

In an effort to lessen the role social media could potentially play in large-scale violence like the riots that gripped England earlier this month, British lawmakers have been pondering the usefulness of banning websites such as Facebook and Twitter during times of crisis.

British Home Secretary Theresa May, law enforcement and government officials, and representatives from the social media industry discussed in a meeting Thursday banning people from using social networking tools during and after crises.

Present at the meeting were representatives from Twitter, Facebook, and Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry Messenger.

According to a spokeswoman with the home secretary's office, officials "looked at how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and co-operation to prevent the networks being used for criminal behavior."

Reps from Twitter and Facebook said in separate statements that the meeting was actually about making social media sites even more secure and relevant during times of crises.

"We've heard from many that Twitter is an effective way to distribute crucial updates and dispel rumors in times of crisis or emergency," a spokesperson from the social network site said.

"We welcome the fact that this was a dialogue about working together to keep people safe rather than about imposing new restrictions on internet services," Facebook added in its own statement.

The statement continued: "There is no place for illegal activity on Facebook and we take firm action against those who breach our rules."

During the mob violence that left at least five people dead and numerous properties damaged, British Prime Minister David Cameron had indicated that social networking tools, like Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry Messenger, had played a great part in organizing the violence.

"When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them," he said, questioning if "it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."

Apparently, officials found their answer at Thursday's meeting, as it was revealed that the government did not attempt to secure authority to shut down social media sites.

After the riots, two men in Britain were sentenced to four years in jail for using Facebook to "organize and orchestrate" disorder, according to the Associated Press. However, the riots they called for with the use of Facebook pages never materialized.

The men, Jordan Blackshaw, 21, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, plan to appeal the case.

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