Banning social media for riots: ‘perilous’ and ‘stupid’

Following the intense rioting in London this week, social media and online services are now in the firing line from politicians. There have been fresh calls for Twitter and RIM’s BBM service to be suspended or blocked, as both have both been used to help organise and coordinate riot activities.

Twitter BBM riots

We’ve already highlighted this earlier in the week, but with fresh calls today from David Cameron and the Home Security for bans it seems worth bringing up again.

Cameron has stated today “We are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

Despite these statements it is not the services at fault, but the people using said services. Having BBM and Twitter shut down would be incredibly short sighted. Even if they were to be periodically suspected, the rioters would find other ways to communicate. As the Telegraph states, “…we shut them down at our peril…It is easy to blame these ‘new’ platforms, but it’s also short-sighted and quite frankly stupid…Twitter and BBM are no different to text messaging, phone calls, emails and even megaphones.” In short, if you want to riot, you will find away.”

More to the point, any suspension of the services would also put a halt to the benefits being brought to victims and local communities, such as the area clean ups organised on Twitter, and the frequent updates and alerts within local areas the micro-blogging service allows.

Rather than targeting the services being used by rioters and non-rioters alike, the government should focus on tackling the underlying reasons behind the rioting – inspiring young people to be passionate and invested in improving their local community, and themselves. They might even want to look into how they might apply social media to good effect here – rather than snatching it away.

Social media does not cause riots

In the last 72 hours London has seen extensive rioting across the city. Throughout the news coverage there has been frequent mentions of social media and the role it has played in ‘organising’ the rioters.

Specific services mentioned are primarily Twitter and RIM’s BlackBerry instant messaging service BBM. Text messaging in general is also getting a few mentions.

Reports have focused on how the services have been used to ‘organise’ the rioters, sending short updates relating to scenes of violence and the number, or lack of, police in a given area. There has been some instigation that the riots may not have taken place, or been less intense, should such services have not been available to them.

But it is not the services to blame, it is the people. While Twitter or BBM may be used for succinct and direct communication, the reach of traditional news television channels can do just as much to incite a small group of thugs in Ealing to copy a small group of thugs in Clapham. The same services are being used by different people to a much more positive effect. Twitter has been used to organise a mass clean up of affected areas – but again it is not the services, it is the people.

In the 1980s we had no smartphones, no micro-blogging services and no widely used instant messaging services. We did have organised riots driven by political and sociocultural motivations. It’s hard to believe social media had more than a minor role in these very sad events.

Changes in (App) Store

Last week we posted on the changes to Apple’s App Store rules and the impact it’s having on 3rd party apps. Here’s an update on who’s doing what, curtsey of Paid Content:

  • Spotify removed its link to web sign-ups in a July 21 update – “Compliance with new rules for subscription-based apps.”
  • New York Times apparently fell in to line with a July 5 update – “Subscribing is quick easy with your iTunes account.”
  • WSJ is ending all transactions inside iOS apps, saying: “We remain concerned that Apple’s own subscription would create a poor experience for our readers, who would not be able to directly manage their WSJ account or to easily access our content across multiple platforms.” But it hasn’t updated its iPad app since June 10th, and continues to promote a link at the bottom of the app to a subscription Web page.
  • Financial Times’ app remains on-store and unchanged – in contravention, it still allows in-app subs but processes them through its own channel. It is Apple’s most vocal opponent on the issue and now urges users toward its HTML5 app instead.
  • The Economist allows existing subscribers to authenticate for read access, but no new transactions. However, it does offer a link at the bottom of its iPad app to a Web store.
  • Rhapsody told paidContent last month it would become compliant, and on July 21 it removed links from its app to a subscription sign-up page on the Web.
  • Hulu went into compliance with its Hulu Plus subscription app June 17.  Subscribers can use the app but can’t manage accounts in it or sign up.
  • Kindle: The Kindle store was removed from the app last Monday, ending in-app purchasing.
  • Kobo‘s ended in-app transactions on July 23 – another service that now requires transactions from the web.
  • Subscription music service Rdio says right in the app description that it’s a subscription service and you can sign up at Our understanding is apps can mention subscription status and access but can direct anyone how to sign up—even in the iTunes app description.
  • Barnes & Noble removed the bookstores from the Nook and Nook Kids apps.
  • Google Books: The Google eBooks app was removed completely but is back.
  • Zinio: The magazine app updated July 29 to Zinio 2.0, proclaiming by press release its “frictionless, digital shopping experience” that allows users to “purchase single issues, back issues and subscriptions in-app, simply using their iTunes account.”

Hargreaves Confirmed – A victory for common sense

Yep, a serious victory for common sense hit the news today. Following the Hargreaves Review, published back in May, the Government has confirmed ‘format shifting’ will no longer be illegal under UK copyright law.

Format shifting essentially refers to copying content, be it music, films or TV shows, from one format to another. Until now, this has technically been illegal in the UK, so ripping tracks from a physical CD to your PC’s hard drive and then on to an MP3 player has been a whacking double violation of copyright law. Ditto with DVDs and other physical media you may have kicking about.

Seems pretty silly eh? Especially when you consider the number of people totting about with an MP3 player or smartphone hanging out their back pocket. As Vince Cable, of Business Security fame, stated, copyright law has been “brought in line with reality”. And what a lovely digital reality it is we live in.

In the scheme of the world, universe and everything, this isn’t going to make a huge difference to the everyday consumer, aside from removing an ever present threat of being taken to court on some trumped up copyright case by content rights holders – as has happened in the US a few times.

It does mean the UK government is getting a better handle on those pesky issues around legislation in the increasingly digital world in which we find ourselves. There’s even some fresh hope for the Digital Economy Act, which has received a bit of a refresh today aswell. The plans to block sites hosting copyrighted materials illegally have been chucked following a review by Ofcom. The proposal has never been popular with UK ISPs, and now the government is looking at “other ways of achieving the same [blocking] objective.”

Hard to say what these other ways will be, but good to know they are trying and not forgetting the whole shabang altogether. It’s important, afterall.

A slight offshoot to the news is parodies and the ‘manipulation’ of copyrighted works has also been relaxed. Put simply, this means your average YouTube user won’t have their comical parody of Alicia Key’s Empire State of Mind removed from YouTube simply because it sounds more or less the same as the original. Good news for everyone – more freedom for creative types, more comedy for the rest of us.

In Mother Russia, they like to tweet

Can Twitter actually turn a profit? That’s the million dollar question – or more specifically $400m. Russian investment firm DST Global has just coughed up the tidy sum, according to reports, and there may even be another $400m as a second round. As a result, Twitter has now been valued at around $8 billion, compared to half that in December last year.

twitter DST

It’s not the first investment in the tech space DST has made. Past slurges include Facebook, online discount site Groupon and Zynga, the developer behind the popular online game FarmVille.

All these investments have one thing in common – they’re all unproven but highly popular businesses. Even with Twitter’s impressive growth numbers, which include a 600% year-on-year increase in advertiser numbers, its tough to see a return on such a high level of investment in the short term. Even with an expanding service, there’s only so much room for increased reach amongst existing and new users. Twitter’s going to have to tweet mighty hard to prove its worth.