Hate crime 'police priority' as social media cases soar
A rise in online hate crimes has prompted a major police campaign.
After the number of hate crime files created last year reached almost 6,000, Police Scotland is urging young people to "be greater than a hater".
Many cases involved social media being used for bullying, with fake accounts created to perpetrate abuse.
Now police want young people to consider the damage caused by abuse related to race, sexuality, gender, disability or religion.
Police Scotland said a total of 5,889 hate crime files were created in 2016/17.
About 900 cases involved a perpetrator aged between 11 and 15 and one-third of those 900 incidents (32%) also involved victims in the same age group.
Officers warned that many recorded instances of hate crime have a cyber element as increasing numbers of youngsters use social media to bully their peers online or hide behind fake online accounts.
Now Police Scotland have launched a social media campaign and officers are working with schools to target young people with the slogan "be greater than a hater".
Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald said: "Tackling hate crime is a priority for Police Scotland and we take reports of any such incidents very seriously.
"Young people may not realise that hate crime can have significant and long-lasting consequences for both victims and perpetrators.
"We are working with partners to inform young people in an effort to prevent these incidents.
"It is vital that people report any hate incidents to us. Everyone has the right to live in safety and without fear."
Hate crime is defined as "any crime which is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by malice or ill will towards a social group".
Perpetrators will target victims based on their presumed sexual orientation, transgender identity, disability, race and religion or belief.
Despite a decreasing trend, race remains the most commonly recorded strand of hate crime.
There has, however, been an increase in recorded homophobic and transphobic incidents.
Hate crime is still believed to be under-reported although it is thought that the prevalence of younger offenders may be due to an increased willingness to report perpetrators in that specific age-group.
ACC MacDonald added: "We are aware that hate crime is often under-reported, however, Police Scotland is committed to reviewing and fully investigating all reports of hate.
"I would encourage anyone who has been the victim of hate crime in any form, to come forward and report it to the police by calling 101 or 999 if it is an emergency."
Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said: "There is absolutely no place for any kind of prejudice in Scotland.
"This campaign will not only encourage and empower young people to recognise hate crime and report it, but also to see the long-lasting impact that such appalling acts can have on victims."