Plenty of others have given their own opinion on MP Louise Mensch’s suggestion that authorities should be able to shut down social media during civil unrest, so I just want to add a couple of experiences:
Here’s the first: when rumours spread about children being kidnapped in supermarket toilets, they first spread by text message (not social media). When they spread via the semi-public Facebook, it was easier for others to raise questions or debunk them. On Twitter – a much more public medium – it seems even harder for rumour to get a foothold.
I’ve written before about similar rumours and how journalists can and do play a role in debunking them.
I’ve also written about the potential for automated debunking. The less ‘social’ a medium, the harder it is to create these automated services, and the harder it is to distribute facts.
Finally, I’ve written about how journalists can use the qualities of social media itself to more easily separate rumour from fact.
Gossip and rumour don’t need social media to spread. Removing social media – in my experience (and that of the police, apparently) – just makes it harder to spot, and debunk.