October 28, 2012
Officers say they are inundated with complaints from internet users complaining about online abuse being directed at them.
But while most disputes are brushed off by telling victims to ignore or delete their tormentors from their social media circles, some are so serious they end up in court.
According to The Mail on Sunday at least three arrests are being made every day for sending offensive messages via phones and computers, including harassment by ex-partners and hoax threats,
Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, told the newspaper: "We have concerns that we don't have the resources to police everything that's said on the internet.
"We can't have people getting upset in a one-off situation and involving the police. I do think this could be the thin end of the wedge.
"If we show too much willingness and get involved in every squabble, we're setting ourselves up to keep doing this because it will be expected."
He said it was right for police to investigate cases involving homophobia or racism, but added: "We shouldn't be dealing with individual squabbles."
One officer said he dealt with at least one internet squabble a day including fake Facebook accounts, online arguments, the spreading of malicious rumours and threats.
An officer from the West Midlands told how he had advised someone complaining of Facebook abuse to "unfriend" their abuser, only to be told: "But I won't have as many friends."
An officer from North Wales said: "You will always have one or two serious incidents of harassment and bullying on Facebook and the like but for the most part it's petty stuff.
"It takes up a lot of time and the normal result is advice from us to all parties to grow up."
The laws most commonly used to prosecute anyone who posts offensive material online, or 'trolls' who goad public figures and victims' relatives, make it illegal to send a grossly offensive or obscene message using an electronic network, and apply even if it is sent privately to only one person or just repeats what another has said.
Statistics from 22 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales show there were at least 4,098 arrests under the relevant laws between the start of 2009 and the middle of 2012, averaging three a day.
More than 2,000 people were either charged or given an out-of-court fine or caution.