The UK body of top-ranking police officers has urged Twitter to improve its procedures for dealing with abusive messages in order to remove the burden on police officers.
Officers have been investigating abusive rape messages on the site directed at users, including female MPs, and these have led to arrests. However, the focus has mainly been on asking Twitter to have better reporting procedures in place to let users report abuse.
These calls have now been backed by Andy Trotter, the national policing lead at the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Communication Advisory Group, who said there are far too many messages posted to be policed or that require police action, and there is a responsibility on sites like Twitter to do more to help.
“We would like to see social networks do more to take actions such as instantly suspend accounts where it might be appropriate,” he said.
“There are many grossly offensive, indecent and obscene comments made every day on social media that will not meet the threshold and where the police should not be involved. Thousands and thousands of potential crimes would cause great difficulty for a hard-pressed police service.”
Trotter said the police would still investigate any serious cases as outlined in guidance from the director of public prosecutions.
“Reports of credible threats and communications made over social media that specifically target an individual and constitute harassment will be taken very seriously by the police and investigated," he said.
“The police will draw on the guidelines to assess whether the threshold for communications which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false is met. The CPS guidance is very clear that a high threshold applies in these cases.”
Twitter has acknowledged the issue and said it is engaging with groups on how best to tackle the issue, as outlined in a recent blog post by its senior director for Trust and Safety, Del Harvey.
"We are constantly talking with our users, advocacy groups, and government officials to see how we can improve Twitter, and will continue to do so," she said.
"Such feedback has always played an important role in the development of our service. We hope the public understands the balances we’re trying to strike as we continue to work to make our systems and processes better."
It is not the first time Twitter has caused issues for the police, with the site blamed for helping fuel the London riots in 2011 by allowing those taking part to easily co-ordinate plans.
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