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Editor's Viewpoint

Social media abuses show need for action

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Our story today about social media makes sobering reading. We reveal that more than 13,000 reports of alleged crimes linked to social media have been made to the police over a three-year period

Our story today about social media makes sobering reading. We reveal that more than 13,000 reports of alleged crimes linked to social media have been made to the police over a three-year period

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Our story today about social media makes sobering reading. We reveal that more than 13,000 reports of alleged crimes linked to social media have been made to the police over a three-year period

Our story about social media makes sobering reading. We reveal that more than 13,000 reports of alleged crimes linked to social media have been made to the police over a three-year period.

A total of 13,477 crimes reported to the PSNI contained references either to Facebook or Twitter. The highest figure was in 2016, with a total of 4,814. This volume has dropped slightly with 4,557 in 2017 and 4,106 in 2018.

Social media has now become so ubiquitous that it is often difficult to know where the online world ends and where the real world begins.

One serious consequence is that some people forget that the normal behaviour of civil society should apply equally to the online world, where some act in ways they would not do in real life.

The language used online is often characterised by a coarseness that is less common in the real world.

Threats of violence, even of death, and invitations to self-harm are bandied about on social media in ways that would be utterly unacceptable in real life.

However, no matter how much people blame social media for all the ills of society, the genie is not going to be put back in the bottle any time soon.

In fact, the internet and its offshoots are such a revolutionary development that it's difficult to remember a time before they existed.

The benefits are equivalent to a Copernican revolution in the storage of information and its retrieval.

In purely scientific terms, the closest comparison in the 20th century is most probably the splitting of the atom.

Despite the bounteous riches of the internet and social media, there is always the possibility of misuse.

DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who has been the victim of online trolling, suggests that people using social media accounts anonymously should be forced to submit an ID that could be traced if a complaint is made.

Ms Lockhart accepts that this may be an imperfect solution, but at the very least it might make trollers think twice.

While the internet and social media are based on the right to free information, that right must be tempered by the duty to use the technology responsibly, ethically and, above all, legally.

Ms Lockhart's proposal has much to commend it, and we would look forward to its adoption into the statute book.

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