10 Aug 2011

Riots: Scores arrested for online posts

As Police across the country arrest young people suspected of inciting rioting on Facebook and Twitter, a cyber crime lawyer tells Channel 4 News that securing convictions may be ‘legally tricky’.


At least eight police forces across the country have arrested at least 19 people below the age of 25 on suspicion of using online posts and mobile phones to call for rioting.

One teenager from Ibrox in Glasgow has appeared in court charged with encouraging others to riot by posting on Facebook. He was remanded in custody and is due back in court next week.

Also in Scotland, Tayside police arrested an 18-year-old man over Facebook posts encouraging others to turn up in Dundee city centre with weapons to riot. The teenager is expected to appear at Dundee Sheriff Court today.

Most people arrested are below 25 year old and are male, with the exception of one 19 year old woman arrested for allegedly posting a Facebook comment calling for a ‘riot’ in Wakefield.

Police across the country warned social network users that they could face severe consequences for trying to spark further riots online.

Greater Manchester issued their own warning over Twitter, writing on their official Twitter account: ‘If you have been using social networking sites to incite disorder, expect us to come knocking on your door very soon.’

Cyber crime lawyer, Zia Ullah, told Channel 4 News he was not surprised that people are being arrested, but he believed that convictions may be legally difficult and that the arrests were part of a broader tactic to prevent disorder.

“We are moving in somewhat unchartered territory in terms of the legislation that is in place,

“It will be difficult to secure convictions, especially in terms of incitement to riot by the generic Facebook user posting comments,”

“Online you’ll see millions of millions of posts that could be incitement or encouragement to anything,” Mr Ullah said.

But he added that convictions could be far more likely for online ring-leaders.

“For the first category of people posting comments, it may be difficult to convict, but a second category that for example set up groups where they tell people specifically where to meet and what they’re going to do, that would be more likely to result in conviction.”

Mr Ullah said the crucial issue was ‘belief’ that the online actions could actually translate into violent action.

“Belief is a legal concept between suspicion and knowledge, so the secondary group who are actively inviting people may find it difficult to argue that they did not believe their actions would result in convction.”

Incitement to riot carries a maximum penalty of up to ten years, which can be reduced by a third if the suspect pleads guilty.