Chief constable says police need to take a 'common sense' approach to online abuse, after arrest of 17-year-old for posting offensive tweets
The police will not be acting as judge and jury on every nasty remark made on Twitter, the UK's leading e-crime police officer has said.
Stuart Hyde, chief constable of Cumbria police and leading e-crime officer for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), spoke up after a 17-year-old boy was issued with a harassment order for posting offensive tweets to Olympic diver Tom Daley.
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The incident occurred soon after the Court of Appeal ruled that Paul Chambers' tweet in 2010, which joked about "blowing [Robin Hood] airport sky high", was not a "menacing" message and exonerated him of all charges.
Hyde said: "We need to put things into context. In the Tom Daley case there was a history of offensive remarks made by the teenager. But I will not drag officers off the street to deal with frivolous complaints about a silly message on Twitter. Only if there is serious harassment and fear, will we investigate."
He added that this meant police forces need to take a "common sense" approach when pursuing complaints.
Hyde said: "Sometimes it will be a civil matter and other times a criminal offence. But forces need to examine the history of the incident before making a decision.
"It isn't just about one tweet but a range of them. If someone is a troll, constantly harassing another person and causing alarm and fear then this is the time we will get involved."
Although Twitter says it does what it can to take down offending accounts, Hyde believes the microblogging site could be doing more. But if not, the current laws could adequately deal with the problem.
He said: "There is the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious Communications Act 1998 and the Communications Act 2003, which Paul Chambers was charged under. These can be used against individuals when necessary."
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