Social media, as any other tool, can be used both to help, and to hurt people. In the past four years, the number of complaints police received about alleged crimes that were linked to Twitter and Facebook increased by 780%. As a direct result, around 650 people were charged last year.
In 2008, according to the statistics released by 29 police forces in England, Scotland and the Wales, there were only 556 reports filed with the police, whereas in 2012 there were 4,908 such reports.
“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” said Chief constable Andy Trotter, of the Association of Chief Police Officers. “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 judgment.”
“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.”
The number of people who faced criminal charges over allegations in which social sites were involved – such as alleged offences committed on the sites (posting abusive messages for instance) or provoked by postings on these social networks – is also on the rise, with 653 people in 2012 compared to 46 in 2008.
“In many ways, online communities can be self-regulating and good at weeding out unacceptable behaviour. We need to find a way of distinguishing between that type of behaviour and that which requires police intervention,” Trotter added.