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 339.

    If people indulge in serious abuse or defamation which contravenes the criminal or civil law they should not expect to retain their anonymity and have to accept that they may be punished for their actions. Straightforward criticism, which some sensitive souls mind find offensive, is a different matter. No one is forced to use a social media account.

  • 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 198.

    People 'should' be nice and civil to each other in real life and online, but it shouldn't be up to the state to legislate manners. I am of the opinion that if free speech is to mean anything it means the right to offend. Offense is a natural biproduct of free speech, and it's something we just have to accept and learn to live with if we want liberty. And in my opinion liberty is paramount.

  • 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 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


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