COMPLAINTS of crimes involving Facebook and Twitter have increased dramatically over the past four years, new figures show.

The phenomenon of social networking crime was comparatively minor in 2008 when just 13 complaints were made to Lancashire Police.

The number spiralled to 250 this year follow-ing the growing popularity of social networking sites. In total, the complaints led to three charges in 2008, and 78 charges this year.

Lancashire Police added that it had received reports of six threats of murder by people using the social networking sites.

Nationally in 2008, there were 556 reports made to police, according to statistics released by 29 police forces in England, Scotland and Wales, under the Freedom of Information Act. But this year, 4,908 offences, in which the two sites were a factor, were reported.

Chief Constable Andy Trotter, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on communications, said the figures demonstrate a new challenge.

He said it was important forces prioritised social networking crimes which cause genuine harm, rather than attempting to curb freedom of expression.

“It is a new world for all, and we could end up in a situation where each constabulary needs a dedicated Twitter squad.

“In my opinion, that would not be a good use of resources in difficult financial times.

“We need to accept that people have the right to communicate, even to communicate in an obn-oxious, or disagreeable way, and there is no desire on the part of the police to get involved in that judgment. But equally, there are many offences involving social media, such as harass-ment 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 QC has announced new guidelines on how people who post offensive mess-ages on Facebook and Twitter should be dealt with, expected to result in fewer criminal charges being brought.