Call for more resources as nearly 5,000 Facebook, Twitter and Ebay related cyber crimes reported to PSNI in year
Almost 5,000 crimes relating to Facebook, Twitter and Ebay have been reported to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the last 12 months, it can be revealed.
That's around 410 incidents per month, 94 per week or 13 per day.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, a member of Stormont's Justice Committee, believes the PSNI should be given extra resources to tackle cyber and internet crime.
The PSNI's cyber crime centre currently has 21 specialist officers.
"Many of these crimes are due to individuals who think they can say and do as they wish without repercussions purely because they are anonymous. Many of these crimes are hate-based crimes and in many ways libelous in their content," he said.
Mr Beattie, a prolific Twitter user and former Army captain, says he has been on the receiving end of sinister taunts on the social network.
"Given my background in the military, I have been accused of murder and other crimes by individuals on social media, including Facebook and Twitter. The same anonymous individuals would not be so open with their opinions and libellous remarks if their names were known."
The Upper Bann representative believes the PSNI must be given the resources, people, skills and expertise needed to combat the growing number of internet crimes.
"I believe courts should be given the power to ban individuals from social media if they are found to be habitually committing an offence," he said. Sinn Fein MLA for Foyle and deputy chairman of the Justice Committee, Raymond McCartney, said there are now "clear instances where the internet and social media are abused."
"All instances of cyber crime or online abuse should be reported to the PSNI and to internet providers, especially abuse directed against vulnerable people and children. Often it happens behind closed doors and as a result is largely invisible, but it can destroy people's lives," he said.
South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford said the figures are "a cause for concern."
"People must realise that the law still applies to what they say and do online. Public representatives know that criticism and comment are part of political life but threats and abuse are not acceptable, regardless of how they are made. Internet crime obviously covers a very wide range of offences, from the threats and abuse to identity theft and financial crime and fraud. It is important that our legislation keeps pace with technological developments and that is a particular challenge, given the pace of change in recent years," he said.
Mr Stalford said public awareness is equally important and added that anyone who makes threats against individuals online "must know they are not anonymous but can be traced and that their actions do have consequences."
"In terms of the general public, it is also important they are aware of potential dangers online and the simple steps they can take to protect themselves against crimes such as identity theft and fraud."
SDLP South Down MLA Colin McGrath said social media "gives a carte blanche for those that wish to do harm."
"People often insult or bully on social media because they think it is harmless when they can't physically see the other person, but all forms of bullying are harmful and need to be stopped.
"Legislation is difficult to implement, given that platforms are often hosted in other countries and people can hide behind pseudonyms, but there should be easier ways for people to access help and for people to be able to trace the accounts of those causing harm," he said.