Is the internet "unpolicable"?

"Facebook is John The Baptist, Twitter is the real thing" - Graham Linehan

The subtext of this recent debate about Twitter being used by people to issue specific threats of violence has been bubbling under for some time now: our nation's laws are becoming unenforcable and the internet is revealing the limits of state power.

For a brief moment this was an overt theme for a number of news providers including The Independent newspaper and commercial radio's main news provider IRN. However, for reasons that are not clear, the script has changed over the weekend and the angle is less obvious now. In fact the script has literally been re-written without any explanation whatsoever in the case of The Independent.
Previously the link from the above tweet led to a news article with these astonishing paragraphs at the bottom:
Today, Steve White, of the Police Federation, said the problem was "unpoliceable" and more needed to be done by social media organisations.

He told BBC Breakfast: "The organisations that run these social media platforms probably need to take a long, hard look, they need to take some responsibility.

[...] social media sites need to think long and hard about being able to prevent it from happening in the first place.

"Crime has completely changed. Internet crime and e-crime, including the kind of trolling that we've seen this week, is hugely on the rise. Members of the public don't really understand what to do about it as well, so it goes unreported.

"We can't possibly deal with every single comment that someone doesn't like on these social media platforms, but I think the Government's got to take a long, hard look at resources and have got to understand that there is a changing face of crime in this country, and the police service needs to adapt to that and the resources need to be there to do it."[my emphasis] [1]
In an earlier post I warned of the inevitably sinister consequences of having a police force who intend to prevent crime rather than catch criminals.
The primary role of the police is to prevent crime, not catch criminals, the chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales has said.

Tom Winsor said focusing on would-be offenders, likely victims and potential crime hotspots would save taxpayers' money and keep more people safe.

But "primitive" technology is limiting officers' ability to do that, he added.
Source BBC News.
The real question regarding this debate is why do MPs and campaigners all insist on missing this side of the story. It's illegal to make specific threats against people, it always has been. If someone were sending you threats in the post you'd be astonished if an MP contacted you with plans to justify intercepting everyone's mail to sort the problem, wouldn't you?

Nick Margerrison


UPDATED ON 10/09/14

Slightly updated it, couple of typos. Thanks for the comments point them out!


UPDATED ON 06/08/13:

I was totally thrown by the Independent amending their article and had difficulty finding the "unpolicable" quote when I first wrote this. I've given it a quick re-write and amended the excess focus on re-edited news stories.

Thanks to an eagle eyed reader who wished to remain anonymous, the "unpolicable" quote is to be found still here:

[1] If you follow the original twitter link it now leads to an article where the above quote has been censored and any mention of the internet being "unpolicable" expunged:
There's an old saying from my forum days, "the internet is written in ink". Fortunately for us there is a stored version of the article as it first appeared, on, where you will find the quote as it was:

If there is a problem with me pointing this out online I am unaware of what, in a legal sense, that might be. I would like to be able to tell my readers the full story and am confused by the lack of a retraction or explanation by the news source in question.


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