Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman calls for officers to use ‘common sense’ and for microblogging site to act.
The body representing Britain’s chief police officers has rejected calls for new laws to govern how the police deal with the abuse of Twitter, saying that problems may eventually be resolved by the microblogging website itself.
The intervention by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) comes amid a debate over the policing of Twitter following a number of recent cases, including the arrest of a teenager in connection with tweets directed at Olympic diver Tom Daley and the jailing of a student for inciting racial hatred by tweeting about the footballer Fabrice Muamba.
Stuart Hyde, the chief constable of Cumbria, who speaks on e-crime for ACPO, said that it was right for police to intervene where individuals’ lives were being made a misery by Twitter “trolls”, but insisted that it was important for forces to take a “common sense” approach.
Asked if new laws were needed, Hyde 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.”
Hyde said that police had so far not received large numbers of complaints about abusive Twitter messages and that he did not want “want police officers dragged off the streets to deal with frivolous complaints”.
“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.”
Hyde said he hoped that negative publicity about celebrities such as Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton quitting Twitter would prompt the company to take action.
“I think there is a case that if you are going to run it as a commercial organisation, then you have got to allow people to use it safely and securely, and have the processes in place where people are acting in a strange way â€“ and the word troll comes to mind â€“ then you get them off as quickly as possible,” he said.
Separately, a representative of the body for rank-and-file police officers also warned that police were “stretched almost to breaking point” and could not be expected to investigate “every instance of stupidity within Twitter”.
A spokesman for the Police Federation, Steve Evans, told Today: “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.”
We don’t need new laws for Twitter trolls, say police chiefs