Children as young as 13 arrested for threats
Children as young as 13 have been arrested over menacing communications in Northern Ireland, it has emerged.
Police said 385 people were held under the Communications Act between April 2010 and last September.
Seven were under the age of 16, including suspects aged 13, 14 and 15.
The youngest person to be charged with an offence was 14.
It comes amid growing concerns over internet safety in the wake of the death of schoolboy Ronan Hughes.
Police figures obtained by this newspaper show a dramatic rise in offences under the Communications Act.
During 2010/11 some 37 arrests were made. By 2013/14 that had quadrupled to 159 arrests.
Another 59 were made in a six-month period between last April and September.
The offences include sending menacing messages, sending an indecent or offensive message and sending an article conveying a threat.
Others were alleged to have persistently used public electronic communications to cause anxiety.
Police also revealed that 1,100 crimes linked to Facebook or Twitter were reported over a four- year period.
These included 114 cases of fraud and forgery and 47 sexual offences.
DUP MLA Alastair Ross, who chairs the Stormont justice committee, said social media was presenting new challenges.
"In recent years senior judges have warned that social media comments could inadvertently prejudice high-profile cases," he said.
"However, more pertinently today, young people too need to be aware that what they post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is sent out for the whole world to see.
"They must also understand that misjudged or malicious online comments can land them in real trouble with the law."