Online social networking, order and disorder

Whilst online social networking has been used successfully for many years by all strata of the world’s population, its use to ferment and prevent civil disturbances is a relatively new phenomenon. It is clear that the way in which online social networking sites are being used is evolving, and that changing user perceptions of online privacy may impact on the ability of the law enforcement community to adapt to new methods of monitoring and evidence gathering. This paper focuses primarily on the London riots of August 2011, and as such discusses legal issues from a UK perspective. However, the matters discussed are of relevance worldwide, with reference made to similar events outside the UK, to show that what occurred in London was not an isolated incident, or a quirk of the UK social networking scene. This paper explores what occurred, the platforms that were used and how they were used, and the legal framework in which investigations took place. It examines the use of social networking to organise rioters, support community defence, and shape the response of law enforcement agencies such as the police, government and the courts. It concludes that there is significant potential for problems of this type to occur in the future, which will require the evolution of law enforcement methods and procedures, and could change the way in which the law enforcement community utilise e-Government systems.