Court upholds four-year jail sentence for two young men accused of inciting violence using Facebook pages in the August riots
Two Facebook users, who are alleged to have provoke rioters during the August riots in Britain by using the social networking site, have lost appeals against their four-year jail sentence.
Social media is believed to have played a significant role in the spread of the unprecedented riots, which began in London in August.
Violence first began in London after the shooting of suspected gangster Mark Duggan in Tottenham, but riots soon spread to other parts, including Hackney, Croydon, Ealing, Peckham and more. Violence also broke out in Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Nottingham.
Violence in different parts, however, were similar in many respects. The rioters were mostly teenagers and young adults from different backgrounds. They all raided shops and businesses and took away electrical goods, cigarettes, clothes and alcohol, before vandalising those.
Authorities and commentators have said that handheld devices and social media may have helped in coordinating the riots.
In a crackdown after the riots, the Scotland Yard tracked down the persons who posted "really inflammatory and inaccurate" messages on social media, that were used to organise and coordinate the riots in London.
The two men who lost their appeal are Jordan Blackshaw, 20, from Cheshire and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, from Warrington, both in northwest England.
Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan were arrested after it was found that they had set up Facebook pages calling for unrest in their home towns.
Blackshaw had set up a Facebook page: "Smash Down Northwich Town", while Sutcliffe-Keenan’s made "Let’s Have a Riot in Latchford" page on the social networking site.
According to AFP, Igor Judge, the lord chief justice, called the riots "shocking and wholly inexcusable." He added that stringent sentences "must follow" to serve as both punishment and deterrent.
"The context hugely aggravates the seriousness of each individual offence," he said. "The sheer numbers involved may have led some of the offenders to believe that they were untouchable and would escape detection."
Judge highlighted technology’s power to enable "the rapid movement and congregation of disorderly groups in new and unpoliced areas," calling it a "sinister aspect" of the riots.
Meanwhile, microblogging site Twitter chief Dick Costolo has said that the government should look at the positives of social networking sites.
Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry were in spotlight during the riots after it was found that some rioters may have used the social networks to plan trouble or encourage other rioters.
Major social media network bosses including Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry were called by a top British Parliamentary body headed by British MP Kieth Vaz to appear before it over the role played by the social networks during the riots.
Chairman Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons Kieth Vaz was quoted by PTI saying, that he has written to the Chairmen of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry because it is absolutely clear that the new media had a role in the number of people who turned up at various places.
During the riots, the company wrote on its official UK BlackBerry Twitter account: "We feel for those impacted by this weekend’s riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can."
Later, RIM’s managing director, global sales and regional marketing, Patrick Spence issued an official response, adding on to the first tweet. He said: "As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials. Similar to other technology providers in the UK we comply with The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces."
But Costolo defended the company’s decision not to hand over user details to authorities after the riots.
According to the Telegraph, Costolo said that instead of engaging in post-riots shut down talks with the government, Twitter told officials that the majority of the tweets were about clean ups.
"One of our core values is respect and the need to defend the user’s voice," he explained. "In the case of the London riots…the majority of the tweets were more about organising cleans ups [rather than inciting violence]."
Costolo added, "We are the free speech wing of the free speech party."
Last week, Facebook Europe vice-president Joanna Shields had said that Prime Minister David Cameron will never shut down the social network.
She said, "I don’t think that’s ever going to happen."