updated 02:50 pm EDT, Thu September 15, 2011
A same time argues BBM helpful in times of crisis
RIM, the makers of Blackberry smartphones and the operator of the BlackBerry Messenger service (BBM), told a UK investigative committee that it would shut down BBM during incidents like the recent riots and other if ordered, but not voluntarily. Stephen Bates, RIM UK Managing Director, told members of the British Parliament that the company would obey the law but that BBM wasn't inherently wrong. Social media could have positive uses in a crisis, and suspending messaging services such as BBM was not a "good way to move forward," Bates said.
Alexander Macgillivray, responsible for public policy at Twitter, was more forceful in mirroring that view. He told the committee that using Twitter and other social networking media could be helpful during periods of large-scale disorder, and shutting it down would be an "absolutely horrible idea."
BBM encrypts its messages end to end and was used extensively by rioters to incite and coordinate activity in a way that wouldn't leave a trail. At the time, British authorities, including Prime Minister David Cameron, thought that the country should consider shutting down online social networking if similar incidents of mass unrest should occur in the future. Since then, the government has softened its position and said it was unlikely that it would take such extreme steps.
Opponents of any kind of shutdown, independently of the companies involved, have noted that the very same BBM and similar services were used to coordinate voluntary clean-ups and spread the identities of known rioters. [via Reuters]