The online world can be a dangerous place for children, and according to a recent study from the UK, some websites are significantly more dangerous than others.
On Friday, March 1, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) published data obtained from police forces in England and Wales.
The data revealed:
- a total of 5,161 crimes of sexual communication with a child recorded in 18 months
- almost a 50% increase in offences recorded in latest six months compared to same period in previous year
- a 200% rise in recorded instances in the use of Instagram to target and abuse children over the same time period
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, has criticized social media platforms for a lack of proper self-regulation.
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“These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks,” Wanless said.
“We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act. It is hugely concerning to see the sharp spike in grooming offences on Instagram, and it is vital that the platform designs basic protection more carefully into the service it offers young people.”
This isn’t the first time Facebook, which owns Instagram, has been called out for reports of child grooming on their apps.
In April 2018, the NSPCC reported that 32.6% of grooming cases involved the use of Facebook, 18.8% used the Facebook-owned apps Instagram and WhatsApp, and the second most-used app in grooming cases was Snapchat.
Last October, Facebook put out a statement saying they were developing new technology to fight child exploitation.
“One of our most important responsibilities is keeping children safe on Facebook,” the social media platform said.
“We do not tolerate any behavior or content that exploits them online and we develop safety programs and educational resources with more than 400 organizations around the world to help make the internet a safer place for children.”
The internet is fun & exciting for children & young people. They can play games & keep in touch with friends. But do you know what they'll be up to when they log on. Learn how you can help keep them safe: https://t.co/roySYGPt84 pic.twitter.com/fFrvcTsXVQ
— NSPCC (@NSPCC) March 4, 2019
According to the NSPCC, the signs of grooming aren’t always obvious, and groomers typically go to great lengths not to be identified.
A child who is being groomed may:
- be very secretive, including about what they are doing online
- have older boyfriends or girlfriends
- go to unusual places to meet friends
- have new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain
- have access to drugs and alcohol.
Resources to combat child grooming are available online.
Police recommend visiting protectchildren.ca for more information on the subject and tips for parents to make sure their kids are safe on the internet.