PAEDOPHILES are targeting vulnerable children on the most popular social media sites with cases of grooming trebling on Instagram since 2017, the NSPCC has warned.
Disturbing figures reveal there were more than 5,100 reports of sexual communication with a child online recorded by police in England and Wales between April 2017 and September 2018, according to data from 39 of the 43 forces. These recorded incidents occurred in the 18 months since the new law was introduced, with 70 percent of victims targeted on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The photo-sharing site Instagram accounted for 33 percent of grooming activities, with the number of cases rising from 126 in 2017 to 428 in September last year.
Girls aged between 12-15 were found to be most at risk of exploitation and around one in five victims were 11-years-old or younger.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, condemned the findings and accused the social media firms of “10 years of failed self-regulation” and insisted “we cannot wait for the next tragedy”.
The Government is set to release a White Paper on the matter and Mr Wanless has stated it is “crucial” that it includes new laws.
He said: “These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks.
“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.
“After 10 years of failed self-regulation by social networks, it is crucial the Government’s imminent Online Harms White Paper includes new laws that tackle online grooming once and for all.”
Meanwhile Digital minister Margot James has promised the Government will issue a crackdown on the criminal activity and pledged a “powerful sanction regime” in the White Paper.
Ms James added: “There will be a powerful sanction regime and it’s inconceivable that it won’t include financial penalties. And they will have to be of a size to act as a deterrent. If you look at the ICO’s fining powers, that might be a useful guide to what we’re thinking about.”
A spokesman for Facebook, which owns Instagram, stated the safety of young users online remains its “top priority” and said the firm will work closely with the police
The spokesman added: “Keeping young people safe on our platforms is our top priority and child exploitation of any kind is not allowed. We use advanced technology and work closely with the police and CEOP to aggressively fight this type of content and protect young people.”
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has stated its “vital” social media sites have “robust mechanisms” in place to keep children safe.
A spokesman for the NCA said: “It is vital that online platforms used by children and young people have in place robust mechanisms and processes to prevent, identify and report sexual exploitation and abuse, including online grooming. Children and young people also need easy access to mechanisms allowing them to alert platforms to potential offending.”