Facebook ‘Rioters’ Jailed As BBC Is Accused Of eLooting

Jail sentences of Facebook “riot organisers” bring protests while the BBC is criticised for e-looting Twitpics

Social Networking sites are still figuring prominently in the London riot aftermath news. The BBC has been reprimanded for looting Twitter, and two failed riot organisers suffered a loss of face in court.

The two would-be rioters were arrested when they tried to recruit fellow looters on Facebook. Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, independently tried to whip up support for riots in their home areas.

Event pages to incite riots

Sutcliffe-Keenan (pictured left) created a Facebook event called“Warrington Riots” and Blackshaw (pictured right)  called his “Smash Down Northwich Town”. Both tried to raise flashmobs at designated times and places but the only “recruits” turned out to be the police who immediately arrested them.

Normally, the pair would have been sentenced in September at a Crown Court but a decision was taken to jail them immediately for four years each because of the seriousness of the crimes. This has caused civil rights bodies to decry the sentences as being disproportionate, though incitement carries a maximum ten years’ imprisonment.

“While it is understandable that the courts have been asked to treat the public disturbances as an aggravating factor, this should be balanced against a key principle of criminal justice, that of proportionality,” said Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns for the Howard League of Penal Reform. “The danger is that some of these sentences are disproportionate and indeed devalue our response to more serious crimes.”

The Howard League also warns that “handing down hurried and overly punitive sentences will only result in many criminal appeals, which will act as a further drag on the [legal] system”. Blackshaw has already lodged an appeal.

The cases have also revealed a split in the government ranks. In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, communities secretary, Eric Pickles said it would be wrong if people “got off with just a slap on the wrist” for incitement to riot. However, last night on BBC2 Televison’s Newsnight, the Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman Tom Brake pointed out that hearings should be about restorative justice rather than retribution. He said that “if they had committed the same offence the day before the riots, they would not have received a sentence of that nature”.

BBC Twitpics in the frame

During the actual riots, the BBC used images tweeted on Twitter via the Twitpics service.

Andy Mabbett, a photographer, blogged that he sent a complaint to the BBC on 6 August following the Tottenham riots in north London. He objected to the channel merely attributing the pictures as being “from Twitter”.

“You may have found them via that Website but they would have been hosted elsewhere and taken by other photographers, whom you did not name and whose copyright you may have breached,” Mabbett said.

In reply, the BBC wrote, “Twitter is a social network platform which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. The BBC is aware of copyright issues and is careful to abide by these laws.”

However, a follow-up complaint that the BBC stance was “a really dreadful response, in every way” drove Chris Hamilton, the BBC News social media editor to respond:

“We’re checking out the complaint response quoted above but, on the face of it, it’s wrong and isn’t the position of BBC News. In fact, we make every effort to contact people, as copyright holders, who’ve taken photos we want to use in our coverage.

“In exceptional situations, i.e. a major news story, where there is a strong public interest in making a photo available to a wide audience, we may seek clearance after we’ve first used it,” he wrote.

“We want to do right by potential contributors and our audience – it’s not in our interests to annoy them – and this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of that,” he concluded.