Facebook and the 2011 London riots

Be careful what you write. In R v Blackwell [2011] EWCA Crim 2312, Lord Judge CJ offers this blunt description of the role played by “modern technology” (principally Facebook, Blackberry’s BBM protocol, Twitter and SMS messaging) in the recent London riots. Rejecting the appellants’ argument that incitement via Facebook was a less serious offence because it did not lead to criminal activity in the real world, his Lordship commented:

[73] We are unimpressed with the suggestion that in each case the appellant did no more than make the appropriate entry in his Facebook. Neither went from door to door looking for friends or like minded people to join up with him in the riot. All that is true. But modern technology has done away with the need for such direct personal communication. It can all be done through Facebook or other social media. In other words, the abuse of modern technology for criminal purposes extends to and includes incitement of very many people by a single step. Indeed it is a sinister feature of these cases that modern technology almost certainly assisted rioters in other places to organise the rapid movement and congregation of disorderly groups in new and unpoliced areas.