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Insult and abuse in the internet age

27 June 2014

At least half of all complaints passed to front line police officers now arise from social media – typically comprising bullying, harassment, abuse and threats of assault. Police resources do not allow for investigation of every disagreement that occurs in social media and the College of Policing are now training police to identify which cases require investigation such as where there is a genuine threat of violence or where conduct is evidence of domestic abuse.

What differentiates harassment on social media is that the comments might be online forever; comments can be made anonymously enabling people to write what they may otherwise not say; comments can be forwarded in volume to create twitterstorms of abuse; and anyone can publish defamatory information.

Online insults and abuse are a growing problem to celebrities and members of the public alike. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 makes it both a criminal and civil offence to pursue a course of conduct which a person knows, or ought to know, amounts to harassment however not every cyber troll will fall foul of the legislation. The test of harassment is an objective one and the gravity of the misconduct must generally be of an order which would sustain criminal liability for the Act to apply.

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