Problem when social media turns anti-social

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There are thousands of sympathy and tribute messages on the Internet respectfully responding to the sad news that Preston legend Sir Tom Finney has passed away.

Unfortunately, there is also a relatively small minority of Internet users who use a time like that as an opportunity to leave inflammatory or disrespectful comments with the intention of deliberately starting arguments or upsetting people.

Some may argue so called trolls are a natural consequence of free speech and a free society and they are fully entitled to air their polarised and unpleasant views. In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of Internet comments being referred to the police for investigation.

These cases are then passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether the comments breach the 2003 Communications Act and should result in criminal charges.

The rapid expansion in social media is continuing and the authorities are only just coming to appreciate the level of monitoring required to effectively police Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.

It is a huge task, but one which is very much needed to prevent and detect criminal acts by offensive and abusive posters, bullies and paedophiles. Due to the outdated way in which crime information is gathered, it cannot currently be established how many criminal offences are committed, incited or organised via the Internet or how many suicides have possibly resulted from Internet bullying. That data collection is something which must be improved as a priority.

Even the police are having problems with the way their own staff use social media.

This has lead to the Association of Chief Police Officers appointing the Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Ian Hopkins to address digital engagement and work out how the police should use social media and what information they should put on it.

Finding that balance between free speech and preventing criminal acts on social media is going to be a challenging role for the police and it’s certainly going to tie up a significant amount of resources.

Social media has so many benefits and has dramatically changed the way we communicate and who we are capable of communicating with. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was an app which could give an auto slap to any trolls or criminals?