Senior police officers have spoken out against the requirement for new laws to control abuse of users on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
The news comes in the wake of yet another high-profile case of Twitter abuse, this time featuring Team GB diving competitor Tom Daley, 18, who was told by one Twitter user that he had ‘let down’ his dead father.
Mr Daley responded by re-posting the offensive comment and left it to his thousands of supporters to deal with the single abusive user.
However, Dorset police were alerted to the abuse and decided to intervene, arresting 17-year-old Reece Messer at a bedsit in Weymouth, Dorset. After questioning, Mr Messer was released with a caution for harassment.
Stuart Hyde, Chief Constable of Cumbria police, speaks on e-crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers. He believes that individual forces need to have a common-sense approach to dealing with messages within the existing legal framework. He added that police forces should only get involved when a victims’ life is being made a misery.
“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,” he said, adding that Twitter and similar sites are posing new challenges to police and legislators.
“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 added in an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme that police have to devote appropriate resources to street policing and that additional resources should not be diverted to online crime and harassment unless there was a real need for it.
Mr Hyde also encouraged Twitter itself to play a role in policing the site from abusive users.
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