UK police overwhelmed by 'petty squabbles' on Facebook and Twitter
Police forces across Britain are having a tough time dealing with petty squabbles on Facebook, Twitter and other social network sites every day. Officers have said they are wasting valuable time and resources tackling Internet users directing abuse at each other.
According to the Daily Mail, at least three arrests are being made every day for sending offensive messages via phones and computers, including people harassing ex-partners by text message and making hoax threats as well as comments on social media.
A 'few dozen' more serious incidents have led to court, with the figure growing rapidly in recent months, police said.
An officer from Essex cited the example of a young woman who had claimed to have received death threats on Facebook. But when officers investigated, they found she had actually threatened to spread malicious rumours about another woman, who had replied: "I hope you die then."
"You will always have one or two serious incidents of harassment and bullying on Facebook and the like but for the most part it's petty stuff. It takes up a lot of time and the normal result is advice from us to all parties to grow up," said an officer from North Wales.
Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "We have concerns that we don't have the resources to police everything that's said on the internet. We can't have people getting upset in a one-off situation and involving the police. If we show too much willingness and get involved in every squabble, we're setting ourselves up to keep doing this because it will be expected."
He said it was right for police to investigate cases involving homophobia or racism, but said the police shouldn't be dealing with individual squabbles.
The laws most commonly used to prosecute anyone who posts offensive material online, or 'trolls' who goad public figures and victims' relatives, make it illegal to send a grossly offensive or obscene message using an electronic network, and apply even if it is sent privately to only one person or just repeats what another has said.
Statistics from 22 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales show there were at least 4,098 arrests under the relevant laws between the start of 2009 and the middle of 2012, averaging three a day. More than 2,000 people were either charged or given an out-of-court fine or caution.