Following threatening and anti-gay tweets sent to young British diver Tom Daley, police have said they are currently forced to ‘make it up as they go along’ in Twitter abuse cases, as the 17-year-old behind the original message received anti-gay abuse from the public.
Yesterday, police warned Reece Messer who had initially told Daley on Twitter he had let his late father down after missing out on a medal at one of his Olympic events.
He went on to send increasingly violent and threatening messages on the platform when confronted by other users.
At one point he sent another user a tweet saying: “i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick.”
Port Talbot FC midfielder Daniel Thomas was suspended from his club pending an investigation into an anti-gay tweet which appeared on his account directed at the British diver.
A tweet appeared on the footballer’s page which said: “If there is any consolation for finishing fourth at least Daley and Waterfield can go and bum each other #teamHIV.”
Thomas’s account, @10danthomas10, was subsequently deleted and both the player and club apologised for the incident.
Meanwhile, Reece Messer, who sent the original tweet about Daley’s father, was himself receiving homophobic abuse from people seeking to defend the diver.
When he sent the offensive tweet, messages told the 17-year-old to, among other things, “Shut the fuck up you gay little cut [sic].”
Another said his profile picture was “gay”, one called him a “gay prick”, one a “gay twat”, one said he did not “give a fuck about this gay little faggot”. Another wrote that the “worst thing is @Rileyy_69 looks so gay”, another than he was a “gay ass n***** with yo fake ass followers”.
One Twitter opined that he was “actually a closet gay and that’s why he’s so hostile towards attractive males”.
Another wrote: “Never heard of this @rileyy_69 before can’t believe how gay this kid is?”. Another advised him: “don’t drop the soap in the shower mate. You’ve got the gay look that paedos/sexually frustrated men go for.”
Another told the teenager: “Hope you get bummed like fuck when your behind bars you gay boy”.
Reece Messer remains under investigation of other comments he sent through his Twitter account.
Regarding police involvement with Twitter abuse, Simon Reed, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation, the body for rank-and-file police officers, told The Times that they are “having to make it up as they go along”.
Reed said: “There is legislation which concerns causing harassment, alarm or distress. If you are walking down the street and someone shouts abuse the law is there to deal with it, but can we police every incident on the internet when someone upsets someone else? I don’t think we have the resources to do that.
“What is needed is some clear guidance from the CPS or the Attorney General about where the line is drawn.
“We can’t have a free-for-all online but by the same token we cannot involve the police every time something unpleasant is said.”
Stuart Hyde, Chief Constable for Cumbria and spokesman on social media for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: “Social media is increasingly part of police business and the law covers situations where you have comment that goes way beyond legitimate opnion. We don’t just deal with people who are famous.
“People have the right to freedom of speech but it has to be within the law.”