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Instagram increasingly used to groom children

Instagram is increasingly being used to groom children, the NSPCC has warned.

The photo and video sharing app was used in 37% of online grooming offences compared to 29% over the previous three years, the children’s charity has found.

NSPCC Chief Executive, Peter Wanless said: “Families have long paid the price for big tech’s failure to protect children from abuse, but the Prime Minister has the chance to turn the tide and put responsibility on firms to clean up the mess they created.”

Freedom of Information responses from 38 police forces in England and Wales show that 1,220 offences of sexual communication with a child were recorded in the first three months of lockdown.

The charity discovered that:

- Instagram was used in 37% of cases where the platform was recorded, compared with 29% over the previous three years.

- Facebook-owned apps (Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp) were used in 51% of cases where the type of communication was recorded.

- Snapchat was used in 20% of cases for which data was available.

- Offences have also increased annually in the three years prior to lockdown.
There were 12,925 offences recorded by police in England and Wales from April 2017 to March 2020, with experts saying poorly designed social media sites are putting children at risk.

The NSPCC is urging prime minister Boris Johnson to bring forward online harms legislation. The charity has helped to propose a new law - the Online Harms Bill – which would make tech companies accountable for the abuse happening on their platforms.

To keep children and young people safe online, the legislation would include:

- New rules to ensure tech companies put the safety of children first.

- An independent regulator to introduce rules that keep children safe on social platforms, with the power to investigate and fine them if they fail to do so.

- Punishments for failing to protect young users.

- Tech companies to be made responsible for young people’s safety – with steep fines of up to €20 million and bans for boardroom directors for failing to do so.

- Safer social platforms that tackle online abuse.

- Social media companies should make platforms safer by design – with safer accounts for young users, making reporting abuse easier and dealing with reports faster.

The children’s charity fears that with ongoing Coronavirus restrictions across the UK, the risk of online abuse will continue to rise, and many more offences may come to light when children report them at school.

The NSPCC wants the upcoming Online Harms Bill to compel firms to consider child protection when they design their sites to prevent harm rather than react once the damage is done.

Peter Wanless added: “As the pandemic intensifies the threat children face online, bold and ambitious action is needed in the form of a world-leading Online Harms Bill.”

“This means legislation that is tough on online crimes against children and regulation that holds tech companies and bosses financially and criminally responsible if they continue to turn a blind eye to entirely avoidable harm.”

Find out more about the charity’s Wild West Web campaign here which aims to protect children from online abuse.

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