While some countries aim to stop revolution by cutting off access to services like Twitter and Facebook, others try to turn social media use on its ear and use these services to monitor its population. Late last month, the Egypt erupted in revolution and the government quickly shut off all social media, before shutting down the Internet entirely. China has taken a similar stance, banning sites like Twitter and Facebook for long periods of time, as an attempt to prevent protests, among other things.
The U.K., on the other hand, has taken this opposite route. According to a story in The Associated Press today, police in the U.K. will use social media sites to keep track of protestors and respond accordingly.
A report from a report by Britain's police inspection body called for authorities to stem the large number of protests through monitoring of social media sites:
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of the Constabulary said police forces would have to focus on speed and communication as demonstrators turn to Internet sites such as Twitter to coordinate their actions.
"Large numbers of protesters can be organized in hours and change their focus in minutes through the use of social media and mobile phones," the report said. "Those responsible for commanding events must plan with this adaptability in mind."
The report singled out UK Uncut, a protest group organized quickly by Twitter users upset at the government's plans to slash public spending and perceived tax avoidance by major British companies. The group has used social-networking sites to help coordinate their actions; the tools include a live mapping service intended to help protesters dodge police cordons.
While some police departments have shown that they don't know how to use Twitter, the Greater Manchester police force - one of the largest in the U.K. - led a Twitter experiment last fall wherein it tweeted every single call it received over 24 hours. As the experiment ran into rate limit issues (the number of Tweets one account can make in a certain period of time, to summarize it simply), it began creating secondary and tertiary accounts. It then strung everything together using hashtags.
All that is to say, it looks like the U.K. police force may have the know-how. It also has the right idea if looking to prevent and quickly react to protestors' moves is the name of the game. Despite Egypt's best efforts to censor its populace, many found ways to communicate nonetheless. Is it better for a government that wants control to push communication from out in the open into secret, unmonitored channels?