'Twitter is the last of the Big Four to go public.'

London - Complaints of crimes involving Facebook and Twitter have increased eight-fold in four years, British police figures reveal.

The dramatic rise in reports of offences such as posting menacing messages led to more than 650 people being charged last year.

According to statistics released by 29 police forces in England, Scotland and Wales, 4,908 offences in which Twitter or Facebook were a factor were reported last year.

This compares with a total of 556 in 2008, when the phenomenon of online social networking crime was comparatively minor.

Forces were asked to provide the number of crime reports in which either Facebook or Twitter was a key factor. This included offences committed on the sites, such as posting abusive messages, and those provoked by postings, such as violent attacks.

A total of 653 people faced criminal charges over such allegations this year – compared with only 46 in 2008.

A breakdown of crime reports showed a wide variety of offences, with harassment and obscene or menacing messages among the most common. There were also numerous sexual offences including grooming, complaints of stalking, allegations of racially aggravated conduct and reports of fraud.

Chief Constable Andy Trotter, who chairs the Association of Chief Police Officers communications advisory group, said the figures demonstrate a new challenge for police.

He said: “We need to accept that people have the right to communicate, even in an obnoxious or disagreeable way.

“But equally, there are many offences involving social media which cause real harm. It is that higher end of offending which forces need to concentrate on.”

Mr Trotter said offences can be roughly divided between crimes which would have been committed, albeit differently, before the emergence of social media and those which exist because of the online platform.

He also welcomed recent Crown Prosecution Service guidelines setting a ‘high threshold’ for police intervention in such cases, which is expected to result in fewer charges being brought.

It follows cases such as that of frustrated airline passenger Paul Chambers, who joked on Twitter about blowing up a South Yorkshire airport which had closed due to snow. His conviction for sending the “menacing” tweet drew widespread criticism and was quashed on appeal in the High Court in July. - Daily Mail