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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Should the police search out crimes on social media?

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There was an interesting article in Saturday’s Guardian which explored the issue of whether the police should get involved in cases of abuse on Twitter.

This whole issue has received a lot of attention and discussion in the wake of the case of Liam Stacey who was jailed for 56 days after he posted racist tweets about Fabrice Muamba, following the footballer’s collapse from heart failure at Bolton’s Premier league game against Tottenham.

@CC_StuartHyde and @DCCTayside were both quoted and put forward what was, for me, a very reasonable case that the police should not invest resources in monitoring social networking sites with two exceptions:

  1. In the case of pursuing investigations into “real world” crimes
  2. To target proactively individuals involved in the sexual grooming of children

The police officers agreed with @_millymoo, a legal Tweeter, Blogger and newspaper columnist, that there was no need for new legislation.

Twitter should police itself

The article brought to my attention a recent interesting phenomenon whereby Tweeters take responsibility themselves for searching out abusive messages and take direct action – by re-tweeting the comments and holding them the authors up to public humiliation.

This approach is used by both @homophobes and @alittleracist to no little effect.

Both accounts re-tweet offensive messages and ask the original Tweeters to defend their views.

Messages are often deleted and people are reminded that Twitter is a public platform.

It’s a similar method to that used by Kick Racism out of Football where fellow spectators have refused to tolerate racist chants and, by and large, driven public racism out of the British game.

Both  @homophobes and @alittleracist agreed in the article that their approach was much more appropriate and effective than involving the police.

Social media for social change

Twitter’s ability to mobilise thousands in a short space of time can be used for all sorts or reasons, good and bad – to organise riots, overthrow governments and confront racism and homophobia.

I have a sense that we are only just beginning to appreciate the power of collective action on social networks.

Please contribute your own examples below.



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