Revealed: The dark face of social media in West Yorkshire

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Harassment online, the sharing of nude pictures by an ex-boyfiend and blackmail by a work colleague. These were just some of the concerns raised by members of the public during a cyber crime web chat hosted by West Yorkshire Police.

They highlight the darker side of social media which can have a devastating effect on those targeted.

Detective Inspector Vanessa Smith, of the Cyber Crime Team, said: “Cyber bullying and harrassment extends to children, not just adults. To go through something like that is absolutely horrendous.

“It’s not to be underestimated. It can decimate careers and lives, and does actually cause deaths.”

The Cyber Crime Team has been working with West Yorkshire Trading Standards, Victim Support and other agencies to host four cyber crime web chats, the latest of which focused on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) community.

Det Insp Smith said: “We wanted to raise awareness in these communities that we’re here to listen. It’s not just to understand the issues, we want people to know that we’re online, we’re in that world. Hopefully it gives people confidence that they can report it.”

One person who joined the web chat shared their experience of being blackmailed by a colleague, who had seen their profile of gay social networking site grindr and was threatening to out them at work.

Another person, who is openly transgender, said they were becoming depressed with the non-stop abuse by ‘trolls’ using anonymous Twitter profiles.

The issue of ‘revenge porn’ was also raised by a man whose ex-boyfriend had set up online profiles using nude pictures of him and was falsely claiming that he worked as an escort.

Det Insp Smith said it was an offence to share nude pictures online without consent, and was something which should be reported.

She said: “When it becomes harrassment, alarm or distress caused by content, in the first instance I would always recommend that the person report the other account holder to the social media proivder and, if in doubt, contact the police.

“By taking some simple precautions, you can prevent further bullying and also prevent yourself being bullied in the future. If people are reported, you’re taking away their voice.”

The web chats, which are still available to view via the West Yorkshire Police website, covered a number of other topics including identity fraud, online security and gaming.

They also included advice on safe searching, secure passwords and preventing identity theft.

Det Insp Smith said people should think about whether an image they planned to post was one that they would be happy for anyone, including a potential employer, to see.

“Over 90 per cent of cyber crime, if not more, can be prevented by just thinking about what you’d do in the real world,” she said. “If a random person came to your door and asked for a photograph, you wouldn’t just give it to them.”

She urged people to check their privacy and security settings, and to talk to their children about what they were doing online.

Meanwhile, the force has become the first in the country to set up an independent cyber advisory group.

The group, which met for the second time last week, include representatives from Barclays, Leeds Building Society, Leeds Beckett University, Sky, Age UK and Stonewall.

The aim is to bring together people with expertise from different sectors to better understand what digital crime means to different communities.

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