Soaring numbers of alleged crimes on Facebook and Twitter are being investigated by police, new figures have revealed.
Thousands of complaints involving social media were reported to forces across the UK last year, including allegations of sexual offences, threats to kill and harassment.
There is a responsibility on police and internet providers to protect people online
The National Policing Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said police and internet providers had a “responsibility” to protect people online, while Facebook insisted it did not tolerate abusive behaviour and urged users to report illegal activity.
A total of 38 out of 45 forces reported a rise in the number of crime reports where Facebook appeared in 2014. Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said Facebook appeared in 959 crime reports last year, up from 512 in 2013 and 451 in 2012.
Last year’s complaints included 371 allegations of harassment, 38 threats to kill and eight rape allegations involving girls under the age of 16, GMP said.
Superintendent Paul Giannasi, of the NPCC’s hate crime working group, said: “We are working with industry partners and others to try to tackle the level of abuse, harassment and other offensive content on social media, but we have to balance the right to free speech with the need to protect individuals from targeted abuse. There have been a number of successful prosecutions against people posting offensive and abusive messages, including under new legislation making revenge pornography illegal. In some cases this has led to the offender being imprisoned.
“There is a responsibility on police and internet providers to protect people online.”
A Facebook spokesman said the company responds to appropriate requests from police to provide information about illegal activity to help ensure the site remains a safe place. Facebook describes itself as “highly self-regulating”.
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.