U.K. police forces are arresting at least three individuals everyday for sending offensive messages, the Daily Mail reported.
These arrests include claims of harassment through text, hoax threats, and social media comments, which led some officers to say that they are wasting their time and resources tackling Internet squabbles when they could be focusing more on what they consider serious crimes.
“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,” a North Wales officer told the Daily Mail. “It takes up a lot of time and the normal result is advice from us to all parties to grow up.”
It is currently illegal for anyone in the U.K. to send an obscene or “grossly offensive” message through electronic means, even if you only send it privately to one person or repeat a message from another person under the Communications Act 2003.
Police made at least 4,098 arrests between 2009 and the middle of 2012, according to statistics from 22 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. More than 2,000 of those people were charged, fined, or given caution by the courts. In many of the cases, police simply told the parties involved to stop using those particular social networks or to unfriend their abuser.
Simon Reed, the vice chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, is worried that the police forces won’t have the the proper resources needed to monitor what is said on the Internet.
“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,” Reed said.
Reed still wants the police to focus on social media cases that involve homophobia or racism.
The frequency of cases in which U.K. residents were found guilty of posting malicious content online in recent months has led the Crown Prosecution Service, which serves as Britain’s prosecution body, to work on its own set of guidelines for policing social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. They hope to publish the guidelines by Christmas.
The Football Association (FA) is now in the process of issuing its own guidelines for the England National team players, after giving Chelsea defender Ashley Cole its largest social media fine in FA history for using a derogatory team in a tweet.
The U.K has had a wave of cases involving citizens posting offensive material online. One man was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison over jokes about a missing 5-year-old while another got 240 hours of community service for saying that “all soldiers should die and go to hell,” according to Reuters.
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