Complaints to police over social network sites soar
POLICE are being deluged with complaints arising from social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, it has emerged.
Several high-profile cases involving social networking sites have hit the headlines around the region in the last year, including one in Plymouth where a teenager was arrested for allegedly posting threats against a witness on Facebook.
But Devon and Cornwall Police has now revealed it is being inundated with more minor complaints, mainly from youngsters, emanating from rows over the Internet.
Chief Constable Stephen Otter said "the biggest increase in demand for neighbourhood officers" was "activity on social media, which results in fights and scuffles outside school gates and so on".
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Figures released earlier this year showed crimes linked to Facebook had nearly doubled, from 115 incidents in 2009 to 225 in 2010.
No figures on the number of complaints linking the site, or others such as Twitter, MySpace and Bebo, are available.
However, Detective Inspector Simon Snell, who has led many of the force's major online investigations, said it was a "huge problem".
"More and more complaints are being made to the police about issues on social media sites, predominantly Facebook," he said. "Mostly they come from youngsters.
"So many children have a social media profile out there, they are living their lives on the Internet now and that is where some of the problems arise."
DI Snell said they were arguments which would previously been "had in the playground or the pub" but which were now being aired, and recorded, on the Internet – often in full view of others.
"Clearly, if there is a crime, then we need to know about it and will investigate," he said.
"In circumstances where it is assessed that no offence has been committed, then we encourage people to use the 'report abuse' button on the website."
He added: "You can imagine the amount of resources that could be spent on investigating every incident on Facebook."
Figures based on crime reports which referenced Facebook revealed that harassment (75) was the most common offence in 2010, followed by assault (52), sexual offences (22) and common assault (21).
The records also linked Facebook to 10 instances of criminal damage, two serious assaults, 10 counts of fraud and forgery, and a burglary.