Online Harassment Is So Bad, Not Even Cops Know How to Deal With It

Illustration for article titled Online Harassment Is So Bad, Not Even Cops Know How to Deal With It

It used to be that antisocial and threatening behavior was carried out through painstaking work like cutting out letters from magazines and pasting them together into scary missives, but those were the old days. Now all hostile jerks have to do is sign online and they're free to harass people from the relative anonymity of their screen names. (Easier, sure, but at least old school creeps took pride in their work.)


In the U.K., "as many as half the daily complaints by the public about low-level antisocial behavior now [relates] to activity that happens online," reports the Guardian. This rise in antisocial online behavior presents a relatively new challenge for law enforcement, both because of the small number of police with good internet know-how (technical term) and because of the blurred line between what constitutes as harassment and what doesn't.

According to Chief Constable of the College of Policing Alex Marshall, a large number of complaints received by police in regards to online harassment are about mundane issues like one person unfriending another on Facebook (this is the online equivalent of dialing 911 because you were delivered the wrong pizza). However, there are plenty more serious complaints as well.

Chief Constable Marshall remarked, "We have to be careful here that there's a line that needs to be drawn, and if something is serious and it's a crime and someone is genuinely threatened or in the case of domestic abuse – maybe they're being coerced and treated deliberately in this way as a sort of punishment by a partner – that's a serious issue that we need to take on."

The chief constable also states that in the near future, "every police investigation will include an online element" and that police must be prepared. As such, 6,000 officers are currently undergoing online training through the College of Policing. The Guardian does not detail the training, but my guess is that it's something like the season 1 episode of SVU where someone had to tell Stabler and Benson what a chat room is.

As we know all too well here at Jezebel, online harassment is and will continue to be a major problem, but ideally it will start to have real legal ramifications. No, you should not be able to have someone charged with a crime just because they no longer want to be your Facebook friend, but you should be able to take action when someone is trying to intimidate you with terrifying threats.



Awhile ago Jezbel reported on the woman who drew naked pictures of creepy men who hit on her over OKCupid.

She actually had a pretty lousy time dealing with some of the more abusive subjects of her work and wrote a blog post about it, coming to about the same conclusion: law enforcement is woefully unequipped to deal with this type of harassment.

This is consistent with what Anna Hess reported in her Pacific Standard piece that was big earlier in the year.