Huge increase in social net crimes

CRIMES involving social media such as Facebook and Twitter have increased 25-fold in four years.

Cleveland Police investigated just two reports linked to social media in 2008, with one person charged. But following an explosion in smartphone use and the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, that rose to 57 in the last year, with 25 people charged.

A Clevwland Police spokeswoman said: “The proliferation in the use of social media over the last few years has increased the number of offences committed using such sites.

“This ranges from incidents of harassment emanating from abusive postings to breaches of restraining orders which can result in a charge.”

Complaints of crimes involving Facebook and Twitter have increased 780 per cent in four years across the UK, resulting in around 650 people being charged.

Chief Constable Andy Trotter, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, says the increase in social media use presents a new challenge for forces.

He said they have to carefully balance crimes which cause genuine harm with protecting people’s freedom of expression.

He said: “It is a new world for all and we could end up in a situation where each constabulary needs a dedicated Twitter squad.

“We need to accept that people have the right to communicate, even to communicate in an obnoxious or disagreeable way, and there is no desire on the part of the police to get involved.

“But equally, there are many offences involving social media such as harassment or genuine threats of violence which cause real harm. It is that higher end of offending which forces need to concentrate on.”

Nationwide this year, 4,908 offences in which the two sites were a factor were reported to police compared to just 556 in 2008.

Offences ranged from harassment and menacing messages to crimes provoked by postings, such as violent attacks.

In September, the Mail told how dad-of-six Joseph Griffin landed himself in court after labelling a man a paedophile on Facebook.

The 43-year-old of Windsor Street, Hartlepool, was fined £50 and ordered to costs after he admitted a charge of sending by public communication network an offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing message.

In April, pervert Anthony Lauder, 28, of Bruce Crescent, Hartlepool, was jailed for four years after he used Facebook to groom two schoolgirls.

Wayne Thompson, 23, of Wolviston Back Lane, Billingham, was jailed for four years in December last year after getting a schoolgirl he met on Facebook pregnant.

He pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a child.

Figures for Durham Constabulary were not provided.