The number of cyber crimes being investigated by Northumbria Police has nearly doubled in the space of a year, new figures have revealed.
The force received 169 allegations concerning offences on Facebook and Twitter in 2014 – up from 97 in the previous year.
Police forces across the country received thousands of complaints involving social media, including allegations of sexual offences, harassment and threats to kill.
In 2012, Northumbria Police received 56 complaints related to Facebook and four connected to Twitter.
Now the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) says it is the responsibility of both the police and internet providers to protect people from crimes while they are online.
The bulk of the complaints made to Northumbria Police relate to Facebook, with 166 out of 169 of the alleged offences coming from the networking site.
In June 2013, internet troll Reece Elliot, from Fossway, South Shields, was jailed for 28 months for making sick threats to kill 200 American students on a Facebook tribute site for a 17-year-old girl killed in a car accident in Tennessee four months earlier.
John Nimmo, from Moreland Road, South Shields, was given an eight-week sentence at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in January last year after threatening to rape women’s campaigner Caroline Criado- Perez on Twitter, over a campaign to ensure a woman featured on British bank- notes.
A total of 38 out of 45 forces reported a rise in the number of crime reports where Facebook appeared in 2014, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Twenty-four forces said they also received more crime reports which mentioned Twitter last year than in 2013.
Superintendent Paul Giannasi, of the NPCC’s hate crime working group, said: “We are working with industry partners and others to try to tackle the level of abuse, harassment and other offensive content on social media, but we have to balance the right to free speech with the need to protect individuals from targeted abuse.
“There have been a number of successful prosecutions against people posting offensive and abusive messages, including under new legislation making revenge pornography illegal. In some cases this has led to the offender being imprisoned.
“There is a responsibility on police and internet providers to protect people online.
“Anyone who feels that they are being harassed on social media should report it to the police via the dedicated True Vision website so that we can investigate it fully.”
A Facebook spokesman said the company responds to appropriate requests from police to provide information about illegal activity to help ensure the site remains a safe place.
The social networking giant said it does not tolerate abusive behaviour and operates a “real name” policy so that people are accountable for their actions.
Facebook encourages its 1.3 billion users to report content they find upsetting or which breaks the site’s community standards, the spokesman said.
Many police forces pointed out that even though Facebook or Twitter appeared in a crime report, social media may not have been used as a tool to commit an offence.
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.
Detective Chief Inspector John Bent, of Northumbria Police, said: “We have seen an increase in the numbers of crimes where Facebook and Twitter are mentioned. Part of this increase no doubt reflects the fact that more and more people are accessing social media.
“We treat all reports of crime seriously, and cyber-related matters are no different.
“While offenders can often appear faceless and anonymous, the victims are not, and they deserve, and will receive, the same high levels of service that we provide to all crime victims.”