Regent Street in London, once one of the most lucrative retail centers in the world, has been burning for two months. Apple’s flagship store is a burned shell, its luxury products looted in the first days of the mayhem which has swept a once great city.
No-one knows why – although there are plenty of theories – but British society has collapsed. A toxic mix of four years of economic decline, massive cuts in social welfare, high unemployment, pervasive communications technology and a massively reduced legal and political structure all seem to have undermined the state.
And while the British may not know why, they do know what to blame: social media.
“Unless we are able to halt the ability of rioters to coordinate we will not be able to bring this chaos under control,” says Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s representative on the UN Security Council.
“The West is learning that Liberal free speech leads to disorder,” says China’s ambassador to the UN, Wang Min. “It is time that we are able to work together as global leaders to ban the mechanisms by which people are able to converse outside of government control.”
In a perverse alliance, Britain – the country which invented the parliamentary democracy – has joined forces with China, which has pioneered software and mechanisms to scrutinize all social media speech at home. Their partnership has resulted in Proposition 7215 which is to go before the UN Security Council tomorrow. It is a complex proposal but its result, if passed, will be that governments can request that the UN-controlled International Telecommunications Union will have the authority to shut down social media services at government request.
The United States, fully occupied with its own social-media-organized protests in New York, has said it will not support the vote at the Security Council next week, but will abstain. With Russia, Bolivia, South Africa, France and Turkey all looking as if they will support the bill, there is some potential of it being passed.
Protestors around the world have gathered but it looks as if free speech may be on the ropes.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
On 4 August 2011, armed police working as part of Operation Trident which aims to reduce gun crime, act to arrest Mark Duggan, a suspected drug dealer and gang leader. Duggan has been under surveillance following the murder of his cousin, Kelvin Easton, in a gang fight in March for fear that he will seek revenge.
During the arrest Duggan is shot and killed.
On 6 August, Duggan’s relatives march to Tottenham Police Station. During the vigil a small number of people take the opportunity to set fire to two police cars. Four days of rioting follow during which five people die, 3,100 people are arrested, and US$ 300 million worth of damage is caused.
Chuka Umunna, MP for Streatham, becomes the first politician to call for a ban on social media when she demands that Blackberry Messenger, supposedly being used by rioters to coordinate their movements, be disabled between 6pm and 6am during the riots.
“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media,” says Prime Minister David Cameron in the House of Commons. “Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.”