UK
29/05/2014 07:54 BST | Updated 29/05/2014 08:59 BST

Thousands Of Kids As Young As Nine Investigated By Police For Social Media Bullying, Harassment

Nearly 2,000 children, including one as young as nine, have been investigated by police for abuse, harassment and bullying on social media in just three years , it has been revealed.

A total of 1,932 children were investigated by police since 2011 but the actual figure is likely to be higher, as not all police forces could provide data.

Around 1,200 of them received some sort of formal action, such as a caution, charge or fine, according to Sky News, which obtained the information through a Freedom of Information request.

The figures follow huge concern over children bullying and abusing one another, often anonymously, on sites such as Ask.fm and more mainstream social media like Twitter and Facebook.

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The figures follow high-profile prosecutions for abuse on Twitter

In Tayside in Scotland, four 10-year-olds and a nine-year-old received formal warnings from police about their social media behaviour.

The figures are also on the increase - the number of reported cases in 2013/14 were 5% higher than 2011/12.

A teenage victim of cyber bullying told the broadcaster she suffered death threats and and was stalked on social media.

"They stalked me and knew a lot about me," she said. "I drove at the time and where I used to live there's a little bridge.

"And within hours of driving over it, there was a comment saying you should have crashed your car over the bridge you drove over."

Guidelines recommend that those under 18 should generally not be prosecuted over social media bullying because of their age but there have been high-profile prosecutions of adults.

Two people who sent feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez Twitter abuse and threats after she backed a campaign to put Jane Austen on a bank note - were jailed in May.

Criado-Perez was told "fuck off and die you worthless piece of crap", "go kill yourself" and "rape is the last of your worries".

A social media expert said the growing number of internet devices was party to blame for the increase in abuse and bullying on social media.

"So whether it's smartphones, internet-connected TVs, more apps - they allow more young people to be harassed than ever before," Luke Roberts, a social network expert at Beat Bullying, told Sky News.

The latest figures come as police fear being inundated with a growing number of reports of crime on social media.

As well as children, the data showed a total of 19,279 adults investigated in the last three years and 11,292 were subject to police action.

The total number of cases works out at around 20 a day.

SEE ALSO: HuffPost Reports - Why Do Some Teens Troll Themselves Online?

The FOI asked forces how many investigations under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 they had launched into social media but only 34 of 52 forces could answer, meaning the actual number is likely much higher.

New prosecution guidelines were drawn up to relieve police and the criminal justice system of the pressure posed by the potential enormous workload the issue creates.

The guidelines state a person's age should be given "significant weight" when investigating their social media activity.

"Children may not appreciate the potential harm and seriousness of their communications and a prosecution is rarely likely to be in the public interest, they say.