Reports of crimes via Twitter and Facebook, including threats to murder and sexual grooming, have risen sharply this year with more than 650 people charged with offences, according to police figures.
The two social-networking sites were cited in nearly 5,000 cases reported to the 29 police forces in England, Scotland and Wales that responded to Freedom of Information requests. In 2008, there were 556, meaning that there has been an increase of 780 per cent in the number of these kinds of crimes being reported in four years.
The director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, announced guidelines last week to allay concerns of police chiefs that each force would need a dedicated “Twitter squad”.
The guidelines followed a string of controversial cases including the Twitter joke trial that saw Paul Chambers convicted for a “menacing” tweet in May 2010 when he joked about blowing up Robin Hood airport. He won his appeal against conviction in July. A number of cases resulted in people being jailed for posting abusive messages, known as trolling, and led to a debate about the correct level of sentencing for such crimes.
Matthew Woods, 19, who posted comments on his Facebook page about the missing children, April Jones and Madeleine McCann, was jailed for 12 weeks in October.
Allegations in 2012 included trolling but also offences provoked by postings, including violent attacks. The opera singer, Katherine Jenkins, reported posts following online threats to “cut” her after she took to Twitter to deny claims of an affair with David Beckham. A total of 653 people faced criminal charges this year, according to the forces which responded. Greater Manchester Police charged the highest number, at 115. In 2008, 46 people in all force areas were charged in cases connected to the two sites.
The 2012 reports included allegations of grooming, stalking, fraud and racially aggravated conduct.