BBC withdraws claim that social media crimes 'at least half' of front line policing
A headline from the BBC caused quite a stir this morning:
It was based on a quote from Alex Marshall, the head of the College of Policing:
"So in a typical day where perhaps they deal with a dozen calls, they might expect that at least half of them, whether around antisocial behaviour or abuse or threats of assault may well relate to social media, Facebook, Twitter or other forms."
From the interview, it appeared that 'they' meant front-line police officers, but that isn't correct.
This morning we contacted the College, who said they would contact the BBC to clarify what Chief Constable Marshall actually meant.
The BBC have now amended the headline to make clear that the quote is about the calls to police, not their total workload.
But it still refers to "front-line police", when the College has said that the claim is based on conversations with officers who deal with less serious offences, rather than all front-line officers:
"The challenge for officers is to establish what is a criminal act and what is not. Officers dealing with less serious crimes and anti-social behaviour might deal with a dozen calls in a typical day and they tell us that at least half of reports of this type, whether around abuse or threats of assault, may be related to Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media."
So the evidence is anecdotal - it comes from general conversations the College has had with an unknown number of officers. It told us that it is conducting research to better establish the scale of the issue.
The full statement from the College of Policing reads:
Chief Executive of the College of Policing, Chief Constable Alex Marshall, said:
"As people have moved their shopping online and their communications online, they've also moved their insults, their abuse and their threats online, so many more police investigations are having an online element to them.
"Police officers can't deal with every bit of nonsense or disagreement that occurs on social media and there is a line that needs to be drawn. If something is serious and someone is genuinely threatened, at risk or vulnerable that's a serious issue that we need to take on.
"The challenge for officers is to establish what is a criminal act and what is not. Officers dealing with less serious crimes and anti-social behaviour might deal with a dozen calls in a typical day and they tell us that at least half of reports of this type, whether around abuse or threats of assault, may be related to Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media.
"We need to ensure that officers have the right skills and training to make these judgments so that we direct resources appropriately and protect those who genuinely need our help."
Law in Action, the BBC programme which found the story, point out that their story accurately reflected what the head of College of Policing said in the interview (which was broadcast after the online piece and is now available online). The Chief Constable did not make clear in the interview that the context was police officers who deal with low-level crime rather than front-line officers generally. The BBC amended the article once the College asked them to, which seems to have been after Full Fact contacted the College. According to the BBC, the College had previously seen the article and not raised any concerns.
We've updated this piece to reflect that.