West Midlands Police have launched a social media campaign targeting online abusers amid spiralling cases of harassment during the CoVID-19 lockdown.
Cases of online harassment in the West Midlands have leapt by 40 per cent in recent weeks as people spend even more time on social platforms.
More than 2,500 harassment cases have been reported to us in the last month, with one victim receiving a flood of 104 offensive or abusive messages in just a day.
Around a third are domestic-related – sparked by family disputes or relationship breakdowns – but others arise from neighbour spats and fallouts between work colleagues.
The force have now launched a campaign that will see Instagram, Facebook and Twitter users receive inbox messages featuring artwork warning them “it’s easy to commit crime online”.
And a warning that anyone committing online stalking, harassment or threat offences risks being arrested and possibly jailed.
Chief Inspector Nicki Addison, said: “People are spending even more time on social media during lockdown, with less to distract them, and that’s a space where tensions can be fuelled and conflicts bubble over.
“We’ve seen a significant upturn in harassment cases reported to us, from an average of 104 a week pre-lockdown to 144 now.
“We don’t differentiate between people abusing or harassing others face-to-face or online: it’s still an offence and we will take action. Victims can suffer very real psychological and emotional damage through being targeted by online abuse.
“Our campaign is reaching potential perpetrators through social media in the space they are using to offend. And we’re warning them that they risk arrest.
“It’s easy to commit a crime online. It only takes seconds to send messages but if those messages amount to stalking, harassment or hate crimes people can find themselves in serious trouble and possibly a date in court.”
The campaign runs until mid-August and sees direct messages going out via Facebook Messenger, Facebook and Instagram Stories.
They are targeted at age groups statistics suggest are most likely to be targeted by or commit online harassment.
Some of the cases we’re investigating include threats of assault, false allegations, sending of indecent images, and photos being stolen from social media accounts and posted online alongside offensive comments.
Chief Insp Addison, said: “Stalking is a serious crime, an invasion of someone’s privacy, and can result in a lengthy jail term. It can cause victims to want to change the way they go about their day to day lives due to fear and upset. This is not acceptable.
“Our evidence suggests victims may experience dozens of incidents that amount to stalking, including receiving messages online, before reaching out to the police for help.
“We want people to contact us at the earliest opportunity if they feel they are being targeted.”
We will also push for Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) against offenders which can come with conditions including banning them from social media platforms they use to harass victims.
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Waheed Saleem said: “Stalking and harassment are criminal offences, it is disturbing that we have seen a recent rise in these offences.
“These are some of the most vulnerable victims and I am committed to ensuring that they can get help and feel safe.
“Online stalking and harassment can feel even more intrusive, making a victim unable to feel safe in their own home. This is wrong and through this campaign I hope more victims can come forward and more perpetrators will be caught.”