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Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about policing or the law? You may be able to find the answer here.

Through our frequently asked questions section we aim to help you find the answers you need without having to call us to ask for information. We've provided answers to questions on a range of topics which are regularly asked of police forces up and down the country.

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If a person sends threatening/abusive/offensive messages to another person via Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking site, they could be committing an offence. The most relevant offences are 'harassment' and 'malicious communications'.

For harassment to be committed, there must be a 'course of conduct' (i.e. two or more related occurrences). The messages do not necessarily have to be violent in nature, but must be oppressive and need to have caused some alarm or distress. See Q497 for further information regarding this offence.

If there has only been a single communication, which would be insufficient for the offence of harassment (above), there could be an offence relating to malicious communications. For such an offence to be committed, a message must be sent to another person (or sent via a public communications network) that is indecent, grossly offensive, obscene or threatening/menacing.

You can report either of these to your local police force who will be able to confirm whether an offence has been committed, based on the full facts and your individual situation. In order to assist the police with their investigation you must not respond to the message as it may encourage the sender and make the situation worse, also you could take a screen shot of the message so if it gets deleted later there will still be a record of what was said.

However, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the messages, you may wish to initially make a report to Facebook/Twitter etc., as they have processes in place for such situations, and may be able to simply remove the content and/or close down the person's account.

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Answers in this FAQ section are provided by the 'Ask the Police' website. Produced by the Police National Legal Database (PNLD) team, 'Ask the Police' is an official police site approved by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC). All FAQ answers are © PNLD.