A study has found little evidence that postings on Twitter played a significant role in spreading the riots of earlier this summer in the UK.
While a handful of people have been jailed after being found guilty of using social networks to incite trouble, the Guardian newspaper and London School of Economics say that analysis of 2.5 million tweets which mentioned the riots found little evidence to support suggestions that the microblogging site had played any significant role in spreading unrest.
But there are still suggestions that some people used the BlackBerry Messenger network to tell others about their planned and actual involvement in disturbances.
Free speech campaign group the Index on Censorship said it was worried that draconian restrictions were being put in place against online communications channels just as more people were making otherwise harmless use of them.
“It's very worrying that people would believe shutting down social networks would be desirable,” Padraig Ready, the Index's news editor, told the Guardian.
“The vast majority of social network use during the unrest was people spreading information and helping each other get home safely,” he said, and added: “These kinds of actions would weaken the UK's position against authoritarian regimes who censor internet access.”
And criminal barrister and member of the governing Bar Council's IT committee, Jonathan Polnay, said that the debate showed how the law was failing to keep pace with technological change.
“It is important that the law quickly evolves to address issues related to new technology,” he said.