/// Police chief challenges social media firms to tackle online abuse
A senior police chief has said that people have the right to use Twitter and Facebook without being subjected to harassment and abuse, as he challenged social media companies to crack down on rape threats and other offences committed using their services.
Andy Trotter, who leads on social media for Britain’s police forces, told the Guardian he feared that “a whole new tranche” of web-based hate crimes could “cause great difficulty for a hard-pressed police service” trying to deal with what could amount to thousands of allegations.
He said that social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter must have the ingenuity to make it harder to use their platforms to commit crimes.
“We want social media companies to take steps to stop this happening. It’s on their platforms this is occurring. They must accept responsibilty for what’s happening on their platforms,” said Trotter, chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) communications advisory group.
“They can’t just set it up and walk away. We don’t want to be in this arena. They are ingenious people, it can’t be beyond their wit to stop these crimes, particularly those particularly serious allegations we have heard of over the weekend.”
Twitter announced that it would set up a new button to report abuse on each tweet, starting with its iPhone app. But it faces demands to do more. A campaigner who has been the focus of repeated rape threats called for a senior manager to be sacked after he blocked her from communicating with him.
Caroline Criado-Perez said Mark Luckie, Twitter’s manager of journalism and news, continued to block her from communicating with his @MarkSLuckie account on Monday after her supporters started a #takebacktwitter and #shoutingback campaign demanding action.
Luckie initially protected his tweets, meaning nobody could follow him without his permission. He subsequently removed that protection against all users but retained the block on Criado-Perez, who was due to talk to Twitter managers later.
Criado-Perez said she had simply been trying to expand a conversation with Luckie that included her earlier in the day. “It’s just appalling really. I can’t get over the fact that not only did he ignore this but … he now appears to have blocked me. It’s unbelievable from a PR and a media point of view to block the woman trying to communicate concerns … I think he should lose his job.”
New York-based Luckie, the author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook, said on Twitter on Saturday: “The comments I received turned abusive and I temporarily protected my account.” He has said he does not deal with abuse issues.
His website getluckie.net declares that his mission is “to elevate online communication and media. To foster conversations between content producers and audiences. To make the world a better place.” A Twitter spokesperson said it declined to comment on individual accounts.
Criado-Perez at one point was dealing with between 100 and 200 tweets a minute, many of them abusive. A 21-year-old man was arrested by police investigating the abuse, which started after Criado-Perez successfully campaigned for a woman’s picture to be put on a new banknote.
The abuse has not stopped, with the campaigner still subject to threats from accounts with names such as @rapehernow. An online petition calling for Twitter to introduce a button to allow speedy reporting of abuse received 62,000 signatures by 5pm, and Criado-Perez has received support from MPs and celebrities.
Trotter, who is also chief constable of British Transport police in addition to his online remit, said thin police resources could be stretched further because of social media posts alleged to be criminal.
“Thousands and thousands of potential crimes would cause great difficulty for a hard-pressed police service,” he said. If a police officer was dealing with online abuse, “they are not dealing with something else. This is a whole new tranche of crimes.” He said officers could only have the time to deal with serious offences where there was a credible threat or a campaign of harassment.
Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, received rape threats following her public support for Criado-Perez over the weekend. Retweeting the threats – which included “You better watch your back … Im gonna rape your ass at 8pm and put the video all over the internet” and “If I meet you in an alley you will definitely get fucked” – Creasy said she had informed the police and was taking screengrabs as evidence.
Creasy is to join Criado-Perez in a telephone discussion with Del Harvey, Twitter’s head of trust and safety at its San Francisco headquarters, on Monday to ask the website to stamp out such abuse. “I hope to get a commitment from Twitter that they are going to start taking the kind of thing seriously,” Criado-Perez said. “It’s illegal and they are not fulfilling their duties under the law. I’m going to ask them to enforce their own terms and conditions for a start, and start dealing with illegal behaviour.”
She added: “It needs to be much easier to report as it would take me a week to report this … There’s a difference between trolling, abuse and illegal activity and they need to be able to deal with them all.”
Tony Wang, general manager of Twitter UK, said the company took online abuse seriously and called on people to report any “violation of the Twitter rules”.