Social media stretching police resources

Ross Bryant
Ross Bryant

New figures show Devon and Cornwall Police have investigated over 14,000 complaints relating to online abuse since 2006.

The numbers relate to a wide range of potential offences under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Charges include ‘offensive and obscene’ material and comments that cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’.

The news comes as a far-reaching debate
continues about the appropriate remit of the police in an increasingly digitalised society.

The domain of social media, with instant communication, has an innate ability to record complaints of harassment. An insult once hurled on the street is now displayed in a public forum.

As such, the number of complaints of online abuse are increasing almost every year. In addition to this, malicious communications are now classified as violent crimes by the Office for National Statistics. All this in the face of a substantially reduced Police force.

The amount of time spent by Police forces investigating online abuse has led some to questions as to whether Section 127 legislation is overreaching. Free speech campaigners also claim that the legislation fails to clearly define some of the terms and fails to make a distinction between things said in the context of humour, as opposed to malicious intent.

On the Devon and Cornwall Police website, there’s an option to report
malicious behaviour, defined in their terms as “online harassment, stalking, or trolling”. For those who aren’t familiar with the term “trolling”, a troll is defined as someone essentially being mischievous or creating purposeful annoyance.

This, according to Devon and Cornwall Police website is defined as
malicious behaviour. We approached Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner with this information. Alison told The Moorlander: “Unfortunately social media makes it easy to intimidate, bully or blackmail people. While some might not feel that the publication of offensive or abusive language is akin to violent assault, the psychological torture that victims of these crimes can experience is very real and it’s right that they have the law on their side.

‘Guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecution mean that only those social messages where credible threats of violence, harassment or stalking which specifically target individuals are prosecuted – it has to be more than just name calling to warrant a police investigation.

‘The latest figures show that there was a significant increase in the number of stalking and harassment cases reported to Devon and Cornwall Police, and I am pleased that victims are more likely to report these crimes than they once were and our force is getting better at recognising them. Perpetrators should be dealt with robustly to curb their behaviour and so that they better understand the impact they are having on another person’s life.”

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