Fear of Facebook

Police receive only 7,545 calls about Facebook this year, but right-wing press finds reasons to be f

News just in from the Daily Mail – Facebook is a hotbed of criminal activity, with 100,000 crimes "linked" to the social networking site in the past five years. "The Facebook crimewave hits 100,000 in the last five years", read the Mail's Tuesday headline.

It certainly seems a worrying statistic and, indeed, the NS has not been alone in pointing out some of the privacy fears surrounding social networking sites such as Facebook.

But dig beneath the Mail headline a little and one might feel a little less panicky. Facebook is the most visited website in the UK, attracting an estimated 25 million unique visitors this year, up from 22.7 million unique users in 2009. The police said they received 7,545 calls in some way related to Facebook this year – that's 0.03 per cent of those who used the social networking site in the UK.

The police receive millions of 999 calls a year; they get over 80,000 a year alone from people unintentionally dialling 999 on their mobile phones.

Of course, you could argue that anyone resorting to calling the police with reference to Facebook must have had pretty good reason to do so. Until you remember that just recently someone called the police about her stolen snowman. People have called the police about squirrels fighting in the back garden, birds singing too loudly on the roof and other life-threatening matters.

It's also worth noting that when it is reported that 7,545 calls were linked to Facebook, not all were people complaining about stuff that happens to them on Facebook such as obscene or aggressive messages, but also people worried about things they think might be about to happen. So the police were alerted to potential or alleged acts of terrorism, possible sudden deaths, possible frauds, possible sexual offences, hate crimes yet to come and possible firearms offences, as well as bullying and harassment.

One might argue that, with over one-third of the UK's population having used Facebook this year, it's a wonder only 7,545 mentioned Facebook when contacting the police. As a Facebook spokesperson said, while there is a correlation between the site's growing size and the number of calls to the police, there is no evidence to suggest that use of Facebook was the cause or carrier of these criminal acts, if indeed they all turned out to have warranted a 999 call in the first place.

Apart from anything else, think of how many people will have reported that one of their Facebook "friends" has gone missing.

Jason Stamper is New Statesman technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.