Blackberry maker RIM has shared information about its seven million UK members before a select committee looking into the use of social media during the riots.
Questions on the table at the Commons Home Affairs Committee included whether social media outlets be suspended during times of civil unrest, and were companies like Blackberry, Twitter and Facebook - all in attendance today - in any way responsible for the mass outbreak of rioting during August.
The Guardian earlier reported that a committee member, who preferred not to be named, said: "There was suggestions from police that BBM in particular was used to facilitate organised crime during the riots. The question is, does RIM [Research in Motion] have a responsibility to monitor its network or should the authorities have the power to do that? That is one of the issues to tackle without equating us with an authoritarian state."
Blackberry were on the offensive at the Commons Home Affairs Committee, and certainly unprepared to take responsibility for criminal usage of their network during the riots, explaining that alongside 37% of youths aged 20 and younger, their users also include plenty of FTSE 100 companies. However, the company did not dispute the fact that its service was used by people with criminal intent during the riots.
While the committee discussed closing social media outlets during unrest and tried to tease out a sense of culpability and responsibility for the riots from Blackberry, the company, along with Facebook and Twitter, rejected restrictions on social media.
Stephen Bates, Managing Director UK and Ireland of RIM, said: “From our perspective we take the view that social media is force for good and on the whole and... we don’t see that (suspending service during unrest) as being a good way forward.”
Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter's General Counsel, added: “We think it would be an absolutely horrible idea to suspend service during those important times.”
Meanwhile, Richard Allan of Facebook said: “I think we have a very clear responsibility to ensure the uses of our services are legal, and that's very clearly outlined in our terms and conditions”.
The positive usage of social media during the riots was highlighted by each of the social media companies, with reps for Facebook and Twitter pointing out that the public nature of their services make them a poor choice for organising criminal activity.
Blackberry was unable to make the same assertion, thanks to BBM's private messaging system, but had plenty of positives to spin surrounding the use of the service during the riots.
In a statement to UK media outlets following the committee hearing, Blackberry said: “We provided advice on how social media can be used to engage with communities during times of emergency. We also shared insight into the BlackBerry community in the UK, made up of millions of customers and businesses who rely on BlackBerry and BBM both to keep in touch with their loved ones and to carry out their work."
Facebook's Allan said: “When you have 13m people in the United Kingdom actually using the tools to tell family and friends that they are safe – to turn it off at that stage, we think, would not serve the public interest. So we are extremely pleased that the Home Secretary is now indicating that there is no intention to seek additional powers and we hope that that position is sustained and supported by the committee."
RIM went on to say: "We are a great believer in communications and social media as a force for good. As we have seen, during the UK riots the internet and social networks enabled people and communities, including the police, to share information, keep in touch and stay safe.”
The Guardian estimates that 25 million tweets on the subject of the riots were sent during the unrest. BBM figures cannot be measured due to the private nature of the network. Two people were convicted and sentenced to prison for inciting public disorder on Facebook.