Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Riots: What's a social network to do?

As riots spread across England, thrill-seeking, morally bankrupt "youths" are spreading the mayhem, eluding cops, and coordinating robberies with messages like:
the riots have begun, windows smashed, bike wheels taken, mandem pullin out bats n pitbulls everywere, BC this to show respect for the rioters! Join in !
Apparently, Blackberries are as universal in England as cell phones are here, and these "poor" teenagers are rich enough to have them. Some have called on Twitter, Blackberry, and other social media corporations to shut down their services at certain hours, or suspend accounts. They've resisted: they want to stand for free speech and avoid being government tools.

Rightly so: social media is media, and a free media is vital to a free people. These same tools were applauded when they carried the spark of revolution forward in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere earlier this year.

However, the corporations are not bound to keep their service constant, and they can respond wisely to the situation before them. Instead of seeing this as a fight between pro- and anti-free media camps, Blackberry, Twitter, and co. should look for some technical or market solutions to the abuse of their services. I'm sure readers can come up with other ideas, but some ways to slow the spread of violent messages include:
  • Restrict the number of recipients on texts
  • Raise the price of a text. How many teens can afford to send out a blast to fifty friends at 50 pence a pop? And hey - you'll make bank.
  • Put in a time lag of 30 seconds on texts/tweets; that will give police and voice callers a brief time advantage.
And my personal favorite:
  • Spell-check tweets originating on mobile devices in England. Bounce back anything that isn't dictionary-perfect.

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