Tim Godwin, Scotland Yard’s acting commissioner, has revealed that he and his senior management team discussed shutting town Twitter as riots spread across the UK at the beginning of August.
Godwin discovered that his force did not have the legal power to shut down the social networking site and subsequently raised the subject with the government.
Mr Godwin told MPs at the home affairs select committee: “I contemplated seeking the authority to switch it off. The legality of that is very questionable. We did not request that it was turned off but it is something we are pursuing as part of our investigative strategy.”
Many of those taking part in the violence organised themselves on Twittter as well as BBM. BBM cannot be monitored by police as easily as Twitter can.
In fact, many of the discussions on Twitter helped police to stop further trouble: they secured the Olympic site in Stratford, east London, after talk on the site suggested that it was going to be targeted.
Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs select committee, said that he did not realise that the police had even considered shutting down social networks but that this option should be examined because Twitter and its counterparts had “allowed people to turn up at very short notice to demonstrate and riot”.
He said “We should look at whether we should give power to the police to order social media sites to behave in a certain way.”