Young people at risk of being involved in crime should have their social media profiles monitored by youth workers, a probation watchdog report has said.
HM Inspectorate of Probation examined 115 cases and found that a quarter of the crimes were “directly related” to a young person’s use of social media.
Its chief inspector, Dame Glenys Stacey, said social media was being used “to both incite and plan crime”.
The Youth Justice Board said it would consider the report’s recommendations.
The report found there was evidence that some young people have been blackmailed using indecent images they were pressured to upload.
Cases that were linked to online activity by perpetrators included sexual offences and some cases included arguments online escalating into physical assaults.
‘Planning crime on phones’
Dame Glenys said: “This is new behaviour. Many of these young people shun Facebook and other common applications, in favour of lesser known and, therefore, more private media.
“We found offence scenarios inconceivable just a few years ago, with social media used to both incite and plan crime.”
HM Inspectorate of Probation operates 152 youth offending teams in England and Wales, and supervises young people between the ages of 10 and 18 who have come to the attention of the police, or have been sentenced by a court.
Dame Glenys added that young offending teams need help to “catch up”, and there was a strong case for monitoring young people’s social media output.
The Youth Justice Board, which monitors the youth justice system in England and Wales, said it was aware of the risks associated with social media and had issued new guidance on tackling the issue. A spokesman added the body would “carefully consider the recommendations within the report”.
In the report, a youth worker said: “Our young people used to hang around on street corners and parks before committing offences.
“Now they sit alone in their bedrooms and get into arguments or plan offences on their phones, tablets or computers.”
Youth teams in London were described as “more in tune” with the social media element of offending, as the technology is often used in gang crime.
Text message codes were provided to one London office to help them decipher language used by potential young offenders.
The glossary included abbreviations like NIFOC (nude in front of the computer) and POS (parents over shoulder).