• Facebook and Facebook-owned apps used in 52% of grooming cases where method disclosed by police
  • Victims as young as two targeted by online predators
  • Nearly 150 recorded crimes in Wales under new grooming law
  • NSPCC urges Culture Secretary Matt Hancock to regulate social networks

 

FACEBOOK and apps owned by Facebook were used in more than half of online grooming cases where police disclosed which method predators used, an NSPCC investigation reveals.

In the first nine months of a new offence of Sexual Communication with a Child, there were 1,628 crimes recorded in England and Wales, and police revealed what platform was used in 956 cases.

Facebook and apps it owns, Instagram and Whatsapp, were used in 52% of those cases, with Facebook being the most-recorded site overall.

In Wales, police forces recorded 149 crimes under the new grooming offence, with 46% of these using Facebook and Facebook-owned apps when the method was disclosed by police.

The youngest victim was aged just seven years old.

South Wales Police, which along with Dyfed Powys Police only gave data for the first six months of the new offence instead of nine, saw the most recorded crimes with 74. North Wales Police was next with 35, followed by Gwent Police with 21 and Dyfed Powys Police with 19.

Matt Hancock, the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has heralded the end of the Wild West Web1, and the NSPCC is urging him to follow through by bringing in a regulator to force social networks to keep children safe.

Figures from Freedom of Information requests to police forces across England and Wales show the shocking number of cases where groomers used Facebook, and apps owned by

Facebook. The youngest victim recorded was aged just two years old.

Where the method of communication used by predators was logged by police:

  • Facebook was used in a third (32.6%) of cases
  • Facebook owned apps Instagram and Whatsapp were used in nearly a fifth (19.8%) of cases
  • The second most-used app was Snapchat – 176 cases

At present DCMS has plans2 to introduce a voluntary code for social networks, which sites could choose to adhere to, or ignore. For the past 10 years social networks have been allowed to self-regulate, and yet they have consistently failed to take the necessary action needed to keep children safe.

 

The NSPCC is calling on Mr Hancock to go further than this and bring in a mandatory code to regulate social networks so that grooming can be prevented, rather than relying on police to intervene after harm has already been done.

As part of its #WildWestWeb campaign the NSPCC is calling for Mr Hancock to bring in:

  1. An independent regulator for social networks with fining powers.
  2. A mandatory code which introduces Safe Accounts for children; grooming alerts using algorithms; and fast-tracking of reports to moderators which relate to child safety.
  3. Mandatory transparency reports forcing social networks to disclose how many safety reports they get, and how they deal with those reports.

In May 2017 Welsh Education Secretary Kirsty Williams announced that the Welsh Government would create an online safety action plan for children and young people. NSPCC Wales is looking forward to its publication and calling on the Welsh Government to work jointly with the UK Government, to ensure children are better protected from harm online.

Des Mannion, head of NSPCC Cymru/Wales, said: “UK Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has a golden opportunity to put an end to the Wild West Web and force social networks to protect children online.

“Facebook has shown it is happy to use data for commercial purposes, but has failed to harness data in a way that can be used to prevent grooming.

“Facebook should be leading the way, but instead it has demonstrated time and again that self-regulation isn’t working and social networks can’t be left to mark their own homework.

“Mr Hancock could be the person who makes the internet a safer place, for every child now and in the future. We hope he seizes the chance to do that.”


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