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Facebook criminals should social media police access?

The blame game

There have been numerous recent headlines about jailed criminals accessing Facebook and similar social media tools to communicate with the outside world – most notably to threaten or taunt victims and their families.

Now, this is obviously an abhorrent practice. It's unlikely you'll find many people disagreeing with that.

The issue gets a bit more complicated, however, when you start to look at who is to blame and who should be taking responsibility.

Whenever Facebook gets entangled in a controversial issue, the primary pictures plastered across newspapers and digital publications tend to be those of the famous website's brand image – resulting in an unfortunate synchronicity with negative events. Detractors of social media are quick to revel in this as the latest sign that Facebook is just as evil as they have suspected all along.

Applying controls

This sentiment is further affirmed by comments such as the following, by Jean Taylor of Families Fighting For Justice, quoted in The Telegraph: "These perpetrators should not be able to have access to mobile phones in prison. They are getting away with torturing their victims. The social networking sites should police this much more closely!"

Most people – even some jailed individuals, one might expect – are likely to sympathise to some degree with the first two sentences, especially coming from a campaign group with a valid message. However, the third implies that social media platforms should somehow be controlling criminals' freedoms.

Should this really be part of the remit of social media? It seems a rather large burden to place on internet companies when we already have a criminal justice system which is meant to be doing precisely that. If mobile phones are successfully smuggled into jails, no doubt Her Majesty's Prison Service is presumably locked in an ongoing battle to stop the practice – one upon which social media could have little bearing.

It's one thing for Facebook and its contemporaries to remove offensive content and block inappropriate users when they are reported – which is a practice it already engages in – but to filter out all past and present perpetrators of any kind of criminal behaviour is something else entirely.

If police struggle to keep crime and antisocial behaviour off the streets, it's a tall order to expect the internet to enforce a virtual clean sweep.

Liane Baddeley

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