Yesterday, thousands of protesters poured into London to show their opposition to the coalition’s new budget cuts. Anarchists and other protesters prepared for the meeting weeks in advance via Twitter, Youtube and Facebook.
It’s believed that a network of anarchists known as “Network X” planned much of the violence which resulted, including occupying landmarks in Whitehall and West End and attacking the Ritz Hotel.
Thousands march on London
However, there is another side to this: police are also using social media technology to keep track of groups and to help them to find the names of protesters.
Spokesman Alan Crockford of the Metropolitan Police said: “With the huge spread in wide use of social media any one can say anything and our job is to work out whether there’s intention and capability or just someone letting off steam. We can use it to find out about the size and scale of a demonstration”.
“The police have always monitored information which is in the public domain, in a few years this will be considered no different from reading a leaflet about the march”.
Police in many countries are now careful to monitor social networking sites for signs of trouble, as Australian officers showed in the recent case of a fight “organized” via Facebook in New South Wales, Australia (which proved to be a hoax when nobody showed up).
There is also a darker side to the authorities’ use of social media: Egyptian police have reportedly used Facebook and social media to track down the names of protesters during the riots in February, enabling them to arrest them more easily. Those captured were locked up, intimidated and possibly tortured.