/// The Police Cost Of Facebook And Twitter
Surprising figures from the UK on the number of people who are being arrested for sending offensive messages or threats over Facebook and Twitter. Would you believe three a day, each and every day?
New figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday show that 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.
And that is only the number that lead to arrests. There’s a vastly greater number of complaints made all of which have to be investigated.
An officer from North Wales said: ‘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.’
Now of course different jurisdictions have different laws but to my mind the problem here is not people being offensive or making threats. It’s the law that is at fault. This one:
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.
Yes, I know, there have indeed been horrendous cases arising from online bullying. I can think of at least two young women, one case very recent another a bit of time ago, who were driven to suicide by such. So I’m quite happy with the idea that there should be laws against, say, bullying someone into suicide, or against incitement to violence, of threats that produce genuine fear in the victim.
The thing is we already have such laws. They apply to speech, to the written word, to indirect speech and so on. We already have mapped out, and have done for decades at least, what is permissible speech and what is not. So why on Earth do we need special rules for what may or may not be transmitted by an electronic network?
I would argue that we don’t and it is the fact that we do which is wasting so much police time. For they have to investigate every case of “but she called me a cow” as a potential offence precisely because it is an offensive message sent by electronic means. When saying it to someone in person would not be an offence because insult isn’t one.