New Twitter abuse laws not necessary, say police

Twitter logo on a computer screen Twitter has said it would take steps against people using "hate speech"

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New laws to help police deal with cases of abuse on social website Twitter are not needed, senior officers have said.

Recent examples have included offensive tweets aimed at Olympic diver Tom Daley and Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba.

Stuart Hyde, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said forces should take a "common sense" approach.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said police could not be expected to investigate every instance of abuse on Twitter.

Only this week Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton said she was closing down her Twitter account because of the negative comments she was receiving.

'New technology'

Cumbria Chief Constable Mr Hyde, who speaks on e-crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said police should get involved if people's lives were being made a misery.

Start Quote

There hasn't been separate legislation so we are using legislation that wasn't particularly created for this but it works reasonably well most of the time”

End Quote Stuart Hyde Association of Chief Police Officers

But asked if new laws were needed, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "No, I think we have got quite a lot of legislation, dating back to the Malicious Communications Acts of 1998 and 2003. There is a lot there that helps us and gives us the power to do stuff.

"This is a new technology, a new way of communicating, it has grown exponentially. There hasn't been separate legislation so we are using legislation that wasn't particularly created for this but it works reasonably well most of the time."

He continued: "We are learning from it, there are things that have sometimes gone wrong and I think sometimes it is important that we make sure we provide the service people need.

"If people come to us and say 'I am really upset, I've been offended, my life has been made a misery and I want somebody to do something about it', then yes the police should, whenever possible, try to help."

'Serious complaints'

Mr Hyde said abuse on Twitter did not appear to be a huge problem, based on the number of complaints police were receiving.

"I don't want police officers dragged off the streets to deal with frivolous complaints. Where these complaints are pretty serious then it is quite right that we should intervene, and we do that," he said.

"It is important to look at the whole context. It is not just about one tweet, it is a whole range of tweets. Look at what the individual has done - is this a concerted attempt to have a go at one individual in a way that passes the threshold for offences against the law? If it is, then clearly we should intervene and do something to stop it."

Mr Hyde urged Twitter to play its part in policing its own site.

Police Federation spokesman Steve Evans said "The sheer scale of it is huge. Police resources are stretched almost to breaking point so if we started trying to investigate every instance of stupidity within Twitter then we would be really pushed.

"That doesn't mean to say we won't deal with criminal offences. If criminal offences are clearly there, then it is the police's job to investigate them."

Earlier this year Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo said it would introduce measures to help curb the proliferation of "hate speech" and so-called trolling on its service.

"The reason we want to allow pseudonyms is there are lots of places in the world where it's the only way you'd be able to speak freely," he said.

"The flip side of that is it also emboldens these trolls. How do you make sure you are both emboldening people to speak politically but making it OK to be on the platform and not endure all this hate speech? It's very frustrating."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    TWITTER....where people comment and others can comment.

    In the world you get nasty people and good people, that's life.

    If you don't want to read nasty comments, don't use Twitter!

    However, if criminal activity is posted....sure the law should intervene. But not to protect individuals from personal abuse. Like I say, don't go tweeting if you are upset by possible negative remarks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Another waste of police resources. Ive been online since I was 18 and Im coming up for 36 now. I quickly learned about the 'ignore' and 'block' buttons switch back in the day. Jailing trolls for trolling seems pointless. They have and will always be around.
    If the police have to invest anywhere in cybercrime Id rather they were stopping adware, malware and catching paedo's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    There's absolutely no need for new criminal laws on this. Much would be achieved by a facility on Twitter that allowed those subjected to "free speech" to identify, and publicise, the name of, those who choose to be abusive. There's nothing wrong with the expression of opinions - positive or negative - but folk should be required to man up and be associated publicly with the opinions they express

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    It wasn't just a case of negative comments. It was death and rape threats against the person and/or their families. I find it more disturbing that people seem to find that acceptable and think that it doesn't warrant some sort of investigation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Even in these days of crayfish and rocket on organic artisan bread and excessive corporate 'hospitality', attending a football match at some stadia can can be quite an 'earthy' experience.
    Some fans swear incessantly and are anti social in a variety of other ways
    I don't seek to undermine the hidden impact that extreme/incessant non physical abuse can have but twitter, like football, is optional.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Freedom of speech is good up to a point, but a real man would say it to your face. Cowards hide behind their keypad online, saying anything they like with impunity and without any repercussions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Don't ban Twitter. Just ban the use of pseudonyms and only display the real names of its users for all to view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    The best way to handle abusive tweets is smply to ignore them otherwise don't open a twitter account! It's certainly not worth wasting police time investigating such things. Everyone should just send abusive twits to Coventry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    #178. markdoncaster Being arrested just for saying tom daley's dad would be ashamed of him is disgusting...
    And, before this gets moderated, in support of your argument, if I were to insinuate that I hope something bad was to happen to you as I do not agree with your asinine point, would you find that acceptable?

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Twitter opens up a way for millions of people to say how great you are. It also opens up a way for millions of people to say how useless you are. You can't have one without the other. If you want feedback go on Twitter. If you want glowing unconditional praise talk to your mother. It's not rocket science, and a total waste of police time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    I agree. Existing regulations on libel or bullying etc are adequate. People just have to learn how to behave and fellow users are capable of dealing with any form of abusive behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Bear in mind that there are entire online communities where only positive comments are allowed! There are a lot of people out there who cannot even accept legitimate criticism of themselves or their creations much less negative comment. Imagine how they're going to react to negativity when they inevitably encounter it. That's right - they go to the police! And they oblige!

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    For goodness sakes! The only people being delt with by the police should be people with criminal intent.

    Criminals, if they have any sense, will use secure comms - not Twitter.

    So let's stop arresting people for verbal abuse (including slagging off celebs and snowed-in airports). What next? The government didn't like what you said about a minister on Twitter? Slippery slope, that one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I urge all tweeters who object to nasty messageson twitter to close down their accounts forthwith, as I have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Twitter is a platform for nastiness. Type in the name of anyone presently on your TV screen to see a stream of derogatory remarks, abuse and criticism.

    Any person in the public eye who feels they will be immune from this is either deluded or extraordinarily egotistical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Nothing is ever lost by courtesy. It is the cheapest of pleasures; cost nothing and conveys much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Being arrested just for saying tom daley's dad would be ashamed of him is disgusting, crazy use of police time who should be out solving real crimes not twitter arguments, tom daley should be ashamed for calling the police over that and needs to stop spitting the dummy n looking for attention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I got a harassment warning sent to a gaming name I use and when I told the police my side of the story (which is that I was being stalked), they told me to make a complaint. I refused to waste my local police force's time. The same will people go crying to the police repeatedly and i hope they will eventually twig and charge THEM with wasting police time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    "Too many twits might make a t@?t," D Cameron in 2009 though I note he has since signed up.

    Sorry, but the twitterverse is still an alien place to many of us and long may it remain so. I guess though it's a bit like driving a car. If you can't bear the verbal abuse from other drivers, wind your window up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    I don't agree with abuse via Twitter or any other silly social networking site, but I can't possibly agree with wasting a load of police time investigating it.
    If the abuse is that bad, nobody forces you to read it, just close the account and get on with real life, in the real world!


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