POLICE are probing more and more reports of crimes committed on social networking sites, new figures show.
Forces across the country have seen incidents on Facebook and Twitter increase by 780% since 2012.
Northumbria Police received 39 complaints about incidents that have happened on Facebook and Twitter in 2012, and charged 17 people with offences committed online – compared to no offences in 2008.
While in the Cleveland Police force area, there were just two reports and one charge in 2008, and 57 incidents and25 charges in 2012.
Det Chief Insp Ged Noble, of Northumbria Police said investigating this new type of crime posed a challenge to officers.
“We have seen an increase in reports of offences involving social media which is clearly linked to the huge increase in its use,” he said.
“We take all reports of offensive behaviour seriously, and where there is a genuine risk of harm or evidence of a criminal offence we will investigate.
“There is however a balance to be struck between prosecution and the rights of free speech, even if the comments can be disagreeable.
“Investigating reports of criminal behaviour on social network sites has its challenges, but we have staff who are trained in navigating these systems and identifying who the offenders are.”
In 2012, Northumbria Police charged several people over offensive remarks made on Twitter, many directed at celebrities or professional footballers.
In March, Newcastle student Joshua Cryer, 21, from Jesmond, was ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work for racially abusing former Liverpool striker Stan Collymore on the site.
Police have also this year probed reports of racist remarks directed at Newcastle United players Shola and Sammy Ameobi and Danny Simpson.
And the force probed homophobic abuse aimed at X Factor winner Joe McElderry.