13 June 2018
Social media is the new media. And social media is also the new social. Ask 'next gen' and they'll confirm that they arrange their social affairs, speak to their friends — real and virtual — and even conduct relationships, via some electronic gadget or another. But in the same way as they can do in the pub, the gym, or the street, on social media people can get a little anti-social. And reports show that crime is as becoming as virulent in the virtual world as it is on the streets. A recent report of the National Police Chief's Counsel (NPCC) revealed that during the past year, there has been a significant increase in complaints to the police concerning activities on social media. Online crimes can include fraud, child exploitation, harassment — which can be pursued through the civil courts, or via the police; threats to kill; and, as referred to in our blog of 5 June, the new offence of revenge porn. In June, the media reported figures, obtained by the Press Association through a Freedom of Information Act request, which showed soaring rates of complaints to the police involving social media. While mentioning Facebook or Twitter in a crime report doesn't necessarily mean that they played a major part in the offence complained of, the inference is obvious. And not surprising. With the use of social media on the up, the misuse of it is likely also, to be heading the same way. Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh wrote on the NPCC website last month, that in dealing with online crimes – and even those committed in the 'real' rather than the 'virtual' world – the police has to 'think digital'. 'Crimes on and involving the internet can be just as damaging and life-altering to victims as they would be in the physical world and they are happening and being reported at an ever increasing rate. As criminals find new and innovative ways to use technology and the internet to commit fraud, exploit children, harass people and buy and sell illegal goods, law enforcement must be just as innovative and technically capable in our efforts to combat it'. Earlier this year a new Capabilities Management Group was set up, to embrace the National Police Chief's Council, the Home Office, the College of Policing and the National Crime Agency, and it is tasked with using modern technology better to fight old school crime, but also to address the rise in cybercrime. Anyone who has experienced online abuse, bullying or harassment will know that virtual sticks and stones — especially perhaps those thrown by a cowardly perpetrator hiding behind the cloak of anonymity — can cause real alarm and distress, as well as damage to reputation. Reputable social media sites have terms and conditions prohibiting such activities. Simply turning the other cheek may feel like the sensible thing to do, but as the tide of crimes grows, online criminals need to be sent a message that their activities will not be tolerated. Only by lodging complaints with the sites and pursuing the online hoodlums through the courts or with the police, will the tide be turned.