THE number of crime complaints involving social networking websites like Facebook or Twitter has rocketed by more than 1200 per cent in the Lothian region in just five years.
New figures released under Freedom of Information legislation reveal Lothian and Borders received 106 complaints of offences involving the sites this year, compared to just eight in 2008.
The force listed complaints made when Facebook or Twitter had been a key factor, such as alleged crimes which were committed online, like posting abusive messages, and those which were provoked by postings, including violent attacks.
A police spokesman said steps had already been taken to combat the increasing phenomenon of cyber crime linked to social networking. He said: “Newer offences, such as online fraud, bullying and harassment have become more common with the ever-increasing prominence of the internet. Officers regularly engage with schools and other youth groups to highlight the impact of cyber bullying and encourage victims to come forward.
“This engagement has proven positive with young people, who may have been previously been unaware as to what constitutes inappropriate online behaviour.
“Whenever such a crime is reported, officers conduct a thorough investigation to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.”
The number of crimes linked to Facebook and Twitter has soared across Scotland, England and Wales, but the rise has been more pronounced in the Lothian region. The figures show that the number of social networking crimes rose by 780 per cent – from 556 in 2008 to 4908 this year – across the countries. At least 653 of the reports resulted in charges being brought. Some of the complaints related to threats of murder, while there were also numerous sexual offences including grooming, complaints of stalking, allegations of racially-aggravated conduct and reports of fraud.
Commenting on the UK-wide picture, Chief Constable Andy Trotter, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the figures demonstrate a new challenge.
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. In my opinion, that would not be a good use of resources in difficult financial times.
“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 in that judgement. But equally, there are many offences involving social media such as harassment or genuine threats of violence which cause real harm.”