Crime and Social Media

The BBC news website revealed that the number of reported crimes involving social media – and subsequent prosecutions – has increased dramatically in the last 4 years. As shown in the table below, not only have the number of offences raised 783%, but the proportion of convictions has increased significantly, as well:




Offences reported




People charged




Charges as a % of reported offences




There is no detailed information on the specific crimes committed. The BBC article states only that:

‘As well as menacing and threatening messages, there were also numerous sexual offences including grooming, complaints of stalking, allegations of racially aggravated conduct and reports of fraud.’

There are many other ways in which social media can enable crime. Updates can signal when the house is empty and that information can be used to plan burglaries. Social media may be used to coordinate criminal activity, as illustrated by this case. And, then, there is the violation of privacy as illustrated by the recent case of Randi Zuckerberg’s family photo (details here). The bottom line is, the numbers may be much higher than reported.

In essence, we are not talking about new crime, here. Instead, it is a case of technology allowing for new ways of committing old crimes – much like it allows for new ways of shopping or communicating.

Nonetheless, it is a worrying development. It seems that technology makes it easier to commit certain crimes – for instance, stalking – or reach particular targets – as in the case of public figures. If we take the traditional consumer behaviour equation (more information here):

CBA consumers

… and replace product i for the various forms of crime, we can say that social media reduces the cost of committing certain crimes by making it easier / cheaper / more convenient to collect information about individuals and their behaviours.

If insights from consumer behaviour can help us understand why social media is increasingly used in crime, they might also help us detect and tackle that same crime. Suggestions?

One thought on “Crime and Social Media

  1. Following the publication of this post, @BKneuer shared, on Twitter, a number of really interesting examples. I thought they might interest you, too, hence I am repeating them here:
    – Using big data to fight crime:
    – This one is focused on environmental crime, but many of the principles apply to the forms of crime mentioned in the BBC article I write about:
    – This one is about plans to monitor social media conversations:

    Thanks to Bruce for these links.


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