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Scale of online hate revealed as social media cited in 13,000 crime reports

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More than 13,000 suspected crimes linked to social media sites were reported to police in a three-year period, it can be revealed

More than 13,000 suspected crimes linked to social media sites were reported to police in a three-year period, it can be revealed

More than 13,000 suspected crimes linked to social media sites were reported to police in a three-year period, it can be revealed

More than 13,000 suspected crimes linked to social media sites were reported to police in a three-year period, it can be revealed.

On average, the PSNI receives 12 reports of crime every day that mention Facebook or Twitter.

Concerns over the misuse of social media have come to the fore in recent times, with an escalation in cyber-bullying and trolling.

Now figures obtained by this newspaper give an insight into the scale of the problem.

Between 2016 and 2018, a total of 13,477 crime reports to the PSNI contained mentions of either Facebook or Twitter.

An MP who was targeted by online trolls believes many people do not report abuse to police, and suggested the figure could actually be much higher.

Police said an incident report does not always equate to a crime, but they urged the public to be mindful online - especially on social media.

Politicians have called for social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to do more to combat abuse. Among them is DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who has been the victim of vicious online comments about her appearance.

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DUP MP Carla Lockhart speaking in the House of Commons

DUP MP Carla Lockhart speaking in the House of Commons

DUP MP Carla Lockhart speaking in the House of Commons

The Upper Bann representative (34) has vowed to use her voice in Westminster to tackle the issue.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: "Over the past 18 to 24 months it has been well highlighted that I have been subject to online abuse via social media platforms.

"Whilst a number of incidences of this have been widely reported, it is an ongoing problem.

"Several times a week I am subjected to this. Twitter are usually good in the short term of restricting accounts, I've had four restricted in the last week, but these people do reappear."

The number of reported incidents has fallen, but over the three-year period it still works out at more than 12 every day.

The highest number was in 2016 with a total of 4,814 reports that referenced Facebook or Twitter, dropping to 4,557 in 2017 and 4,106 in 2018.

High-profile incidents have included offensive images and videos, online threats and sectarian and homophobic abuse.

Ms Lockhart believes the extent of the problem is under-reported. "I generally don't report these incidents to the police so whilst the figures show a worrying number, I would suggest that the majority of people don't report this.

"The police powers are somewhat restricted with one incident by an individual user and I would like to see far more targeted powers in force for the police and social media platforms more receptive to requests from law enforcement.

"I understand some people want to retain anonymity on social media for a number of reasons.

"One of those, however, cannot be to abuse people online with no repercussions.

"My belief is that some form of ID should be lodged with the social media company who will retain this should there be incidents of harassment or some hate crime committed.

"It is not perfect but it may make those people with low numbers of followers, who are solely on the platforms to be abusive, think twice about their actions."

A PSNI spokesman said some incident reports may include references to Facebook or Twitter without the sites being directly implicated in the crime, but that it was a reminder for people to be wary online.

"Without going through each individual 'incident' report it would be impossible to determine how many crimes have been committed through the use of Facebook or Twitter," they said.

"An 'incident' report does not necessarily equate to a crime. For example, a member of the public could phone up the 101 non-emergency number and say they have information in relation to an appeal the PSNI had put up on their Facebook or Twitter account. Whilst Facebook and Twitter have been mentioned in this report, there was no crime committed through that medium.

"We all deserve to be able to use the internet to learn, explore and connect with each other safely but all of us need to be aware of the risks involved in doing so, especially on social media. Please remember to be mindful of accepting friend requests from strangers and do not share personal information online.

"All users of social media should also be aware that they are personally responsible for the content they post and should avoid posting any content that has the potential to constitute a criminal offence."

Facebook and Twitter were contacted for comment.

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