London: The number of alleged crimes in Britain involving social media sites like Facebook and Twitter has spiked nearly eight-fold in four years, according to latest police figures.
There were 653 people charged in 2012 out of 4,908 offences reported to 29 forces in England, Scotland and Wales. Police chiefs said the figures demonstrate a new challenge.
Offences included those committed on the websites, such as the posting of abusive messages, but also violent attacks committed for real but provoked by these kinds of online postings.
Apart from menacing and threatening messages, there were also numerous sexual offences including grooming, complaints of stalking, allegations of racially aggravated conduct and reports of fraud.
The latest statistics were released by the police under the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC reported. Last week, interim guidelines were issued, aimed at reducing the number of charges in England and Wales, after a string of controversial court cases.
The conviction of Paul Chambers in 2010 for joking on Twitter about blowing up Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire was widely condemned and eventually quashed. In 2008, when the level of social network activity was much lower, there were 556 reports of alleged crimes with 46 people charged.
By this year that figure had risen to 4,908 allegations and 653 charged, the report said. Chief Constable Andy Trotter of the Association of Chief Police Officers said it was important that police prioritised social networking crimes which caused genuine harm.
"We need to accept that people have the right to communicate, even to communicate in an obnoxious or disagreeable way, and there is no desire on the part of the police to get involved in that judgment," he said.
"But equally, there are many offences involving social media such as harassment or genuine threats of violence which cause real harm. It is that higher end of offending which forces need to concentrate on."
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer has announced new guidelines on how people who post offensive messages on Facebook and Twitter should be dealt with. He admitted the CPS made the wrong "judgment call" in the case of Chambers.