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"

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    224... Those who died for our freedom would probably be more upset at the arbitrary rules put in place by the authorities basically giving themselves the power to arrest anyone under the vague banner of "insulting words" or "disorderly conduct".

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Like it Stan:-)

    Perhaps the new govt. snooping quango we can't afford will be able to weed out the worst repeat offenders but I doubt it - that would be too much like being useful.

    Ironic that a party which allegedly stood for transparency and the protection of individual freedoms has outdone Nu Lab.

    Now, whatever happened to that risk register...or Michael Gove's secret e mails...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    39 Andy
    The answer is simple - remove the anonymity and make people reponsible for their comments.
    I think that's a very good point I don't think anyone should post a comment that they were not prepared to say to someone in person. There a few on this site who hide behind anonymity posting thinly veiled abusive posts ,on some other sites there is no veil and they are just abusive!

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Free speech is free, there is no price to pay but abuse is not free abusers must be made to pay the price for their abuse, abuse is not freedom of speech but abuse, free speech is not a cloak, an excuse or mitigator of abuse. they are two different things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    What happens when the government gives the contract for policing the twittersphere to G4S?

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    224 NaughtyNaughty

    Spot on. 10/10

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    the case of the tweeter who posted tweets about bombings and was defended in court by comedians hilites whats wrong with this country. No consideration to those murdered over the years by bombs but thats ok as lon as it does not offend any so called minority who are able to defend themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    I love this comment thread. There is something quite beautiful about all of these people coming online to post comments about their own opinion to an internet they criticise people going online to post comments to an internet community.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    The kid who insulted TD was vile, I read his account and it was full of hate and violence, am all for free speech, but this account was beyond words, perhaps twitter should have closed his account for abuse of terms, at end of day the kid needs to have his attitude sorted out and professional help sought as there is no need for it, yes common sense needs to be used in policing these matters.

  • Comment number 225.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    To all those floating that freedom of speech nonsense...

    People fought and died to give us the freedoms we have today.. and they would be turning in their graves if they saw how these freedoms are being abused...

    With freedom comes responsibility.. hence my point @220 - no anonymity.. if you aren't going to be responsible for your actions why should you have the freedom to do what you want...

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Twitter ye not missus, is a female troll a trollop ?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    218. acewindsor
    'The kid was nasty and insulting but this the price of free speech. '

    My daughter doesn't have a Twitter account. She's a teacher. A parent had started a Twitter campaign of abuse against her. She Tweeted what car my daughter drove and 'roughly' where she lived. Made bogus accusations of a previous police record. Invited others to start a campaign. The price of free speech?

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    TWITTER = The meaning is in the name, users are just what it says

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    I think people should be allowed to tweet whatever they want... as long as their full names and locations are available to whoever wants to see them...

    If you take away their anonymity I doubt they will be so quick to pipe up...

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, is root of the problem.

    "(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he—
    (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
    (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening,abusive or insulting,within the hearing"

    Who decides what is insulting?


  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    This is a waste of police time. The kid was nasty and insulting but this the price of free speech.
    Unfortunately in this country it is against the law to use "insulting words". This is established in section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act. The problem is; who decides what is insulting?.
    This act must be amended in the interests of freedom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Why do people care what random morons send to them over the internet? They're obviously complete idiots so why would you listen to their opinion? People need to toughen up a bit and stop wasting time and money on such a trivial and unimportant matter. It doesn't matter what people send - at the end of the day its a bunch of pixels on a screen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Personally i think birds should be allowed to tweet anything anywhere without intervention from the authorities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    211. ariane

    The comment you're talking about may have been, but many of his comments were extremely offensive. He had been a known menace on twitter abusing all and sundry for some time, unmolested by the police.
    So why doesn't everybody just ignore him instead of getting inspector Knacker involved?


Page 17 of 28


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.