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Two Brits Sent To Prison For Facebook 'Riot' Posts

Two British men have been sentenced to four years in prison for starting separate Facebook pages as a way to organize riots in Chesire, apparently inspired by events in London and other cities. The men were reportedly arrested early in the week of Monday, Aug. 8. The U.K. riots finally began to subside on Wednesday of that week.

The BBC reports that Jordan Blackshaw, 21, was accused of creating a Facebook event titled "Smash d[o]wn in Northwich Town." The event's invitees apparently included the "Mob Hill Massive Northwich Lootin'." It set a five-hour time window — between 1 and 5 p.m. — and a starting location of "behind maccies" — believed to be a reference to a McDonald's in Northwich.

"Blackshaw also added the first comment on his page, writing: 'We'll need to get this kickin off all over,'" the BBC says.

Perry "Pezz" Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, was arrested the day before his night-time riot was to begin, after concerned residents alerted police.

With the authorities warned, the Facebook pages were taken down, and the planned riots did not come to pass, reports the Warrington Guardian. But that didn't stop prosecutors from pursuing stiff penalties against Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan.

"While the judge heard the two defendants were previously of good character," said crown advocate Martin McRobb of the Merseyside and Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service, "they admitted committing very serious offences that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years. The consequence of their actions could have led to more disorder and this was taken into account."

The punishments may open another avenue of discussion over free speech, protests and social media. A case in the U.S. recently made headlines, as transit officials in San Francisco order the shutdown of cellphone service to stations, with the intention of keeping protesters from organizing a demonstration.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reported on that incident for today's Morning Edition. Her report included a tweet from a group which said that with the shutdown, the Bay Area Rapid Transit "pulls a Mubarak in San Francisco."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.