It’s Monday 8th August and London, the capital of England is in a state of uproar as gangs of looters smash shop windows and help themselves to the shiny goods inside. Senior figures within the Metropolitan Police Force are convinced that Twitter is to blame for all of this, so in an attempt to restore law and order, Inspector Knacker of the Yard is given the job of talking to a senior figure within Twitter on the telephone to get him to shut twitter down. Here is how the conversation went.
@bizrock: Hi Inspector Knacker, you are through to the offices of Twitter how can I help you?
Inspector Knacker: it’s this twitter thing, it’s out of control, we need it shutting down now.
@bizrock: seriously, you dudes from the Syrian government never give up do you?We’ve told you we are not shutting twitter down 4 times already today, what bit of ‘No’ don’t you understand?
Inspector Knacker: What are you talking about? I’m from England, the United Kingdom, I represent the forces of law and order in the capital city of London.
@bizrock: oh, sorry, a case of mistaken identity; it’s just that most calls we get asking us to shutdown are from dictatorial Middle Eastern Governments, oh and some from North Korea…We used to get them from China, but they’re too busy spending American money to worry that much about a few status updates about what people have been eating for breakfast.
Inspector Knacker: cut the bull Sonny Jim. Just shut down twitter now and we’ll tell you when you can put it back on, probably about 9 tomorrow morning.
@bizrock: sorry Sir, I can’t do that, millions of people rely on twitter, we rely on it here to make us millions in revenue, we are not going to shut it down!
Inspector Knacker: But the youth are revolting, they are organising the riots on twitter and my officers are flat footed and leaden heeled trying to respond to the next flashpoint of violence and looting
@bizrock: We won’t switch Twitter off Sir, that is my final answer.
Inspector Knacker: right, you’ve asked for it now sonny, I’m sending a squad car of my toughest officers to arrest you, the ones I use on the G20 protests. So what street are your offices in? Expect a knock on your door very very soon. And don’t think about putting the kettle on, they’ll be bringing their own kettling with them and no mistake . .
@bizrock: We have our headquarters in Fulsom Street, Sir.
Inspector Knacker: right I’ve despatched a car straight away, they are going to come round your office and if you don’t unplug that bloody twitter computer, they’ll unplug it for you.
@bizrock: Dude, seriously, that’s some funny shit you are saying there, we handle millions of tweets per day; the times of using a single computer are long gone, we now use optimised intelligent dynamic virtualised server mapping to coordinate our service from banks of servers all across the country, if you did unplug one, it would be no big deal. The DCVIT system would simply rebalance the server load, various RAIDs in multiple locations would immediately back data up. You’d probably get like a few thousand fail whales for about 20 seconds. But then it would be game back on..normal service resumed…
Inspector Knacker: You just stop all that fancy pants social media bullshit right now, what the heck has this got to do with Whales, you’re not one of those bloody environmentalists too are you? …. Hang on, my officers are having trouble finding Fulsom Street, which area of London is that in?
@bizrock: LOL at that, we’re not based in London dude…
Inspector Knacker: not based in London? What kind of an outfit are you? Ah, I see you’ve moved your operation up North, where are you now Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow?
@bizrock: none of those places…sir…
Inspector Knacker: ok, you moved further West then; I’ve heard about that Celtic Tiger thingy, they were mad for computers a few years back, you in Ireland then?
@bizrock: considerably further West Sir, we are in California in the United States of America. That means you have no jurisdiction over me or my company so your kind offer of arrest and threat of shut down is unlikely to be fulfilled. You can of course start extradition proceedings, but that could take months, especially as your Home Secretary is still on holiday and she’d need to look at the paperwork. We’ve just been looking at these riots on Sky News and one of the programmers has calculated that at the current rate of looting and burning, by next Wednesday at 5.47 pm the only thing left in London will be a slightly singed blonde wig once belonging to your mayor. Even if you did get the paperwork sorted, the US is hardly going to close Twitter down on the say-so of a foreign government is it? We have a great written constitution over here which sets out the rights which US citizens can enjoy, and a First Amendment which enshrines the right to free speech in law. Shutting down free speech on the whim of a state agency or a government could only happen in a country which did not enjoy a written constitution and whose people were therefore vulnerable to attacks from politicians keen to erode freedoms in order to make political points, keep the population in a semi-muzzled state, or stem dissent. The same programmer has also been modelling the riots as we speak, and he suggests an alternative course of action. It is a revolutionary policing tactic I know, but he is saying the computer is telling him that arresting the people breaking into the shops will stop the looting much quicker than agonised and poorly informed hand wringing over social media’s involvement.
Inspector Knacker: [nearly crying now] but you are social media, we ALWAYS blame social media when things go wrong. It is the fount of all evil in the civilised world, everyone knows that and it’s true because the Daily Mail write stories about it every day and they are hardly likely to make things up are they?
@bizrock: tell you what. I can see your predicament. You want to appear tough on Social Media so the politicians can in their turn be tough on social media and you get a good scapegoat for the whole rioting and looting thing. Let me have user names of people you believe are actively involved in rioting and we will suspend their accounts immediately..
Inspector Knacker: user names? How the sod are we going to get those? . . and whilst we’re on this, one of my boys tells me you have created a hash tag called #londonriots on your site. You should block that immediately.
@bizrock: [sighs] oh Inspector Knacker, you still have much to learn about social media. Hashtags are user generated, no single person owns them, they are just a way for users of our service to create easy to use meta data allowing topics and themes to emerge from the general stream of tweets. Even if we did block a particular hashtag people would just start a new one.
Inspector Knacker: hang on, my officers have been doing some work and we have a user name for you; this bad boy has been causing chaos all around London and in the provinces, his name is @tom_watson
@bizrock: OK, we’ll check out what he’s been tweeting and suspend his account.
Inspector Knacker: You better do sonny, I didn’t get where I was today by putting up with lip from your sort. Now while you’re on, put me through to your Blackberry Department..
@bizrock: beg your pardon sir, what do you mean Blackberry department?
Inspector Knacker: well your social media aren’t you? Put me through the department which looks after Blackberries. Turns out these noughty kids have been using something called Blackberry Messenger as well as Twitter to coordinate their looting behaviour.
@bizrock: sorry sir, Blackberrry is the name of a suite of handsets produced by RIM (Research in Motion), and whilst they have been aggressively marketed to business users, many young people are customers as BBM allows them to send unlimited messages free of charge to anyone else with a Blackberry.
Inspector Knacker: a likely story, just go next door and tell them to shut the sodding Blackberries off this minute.
@bizrock: I can’t do that for reasons I have given previously. Oh and one other thing sir… this @tom_watson you wanted banned from Twitter? Well we looked at his account and we can’t see any connection with looting and violence in London. From what we can make out from his tweets, his website and his wikipedia page, he is a Labour BackBencher who has been fearlessly pursuing the News of the World Phone Hacking Scandal; a scandal which has already cost your force the resignation of its two most senior officers.
…Line goes dead . . .