Social media a ‘conveyor belt’ for child abuse images, says NSPCC

3 December 2021, 00:04

Child on laptop
Record levels of internet grooming spark calls for stronger Online Safety Bill. Picture: PA

The charity called for stronger measures to protect children in the draft Online Safety Bill.

Social media is being used as a “conveyor belt” to produce and share child abuse images on an “industrial scale”, the NSPCC has said as it revealed more than 100,000 images had been recorded by police in the last five years.

The child protection charity called on Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to strengthen the Online Safety Bill to disrupt this offending.

It said the draft Bill fails to do enough to protect children, and has published a five-point plan to bolster it.

Nadine Dorries
Nadine Dorries (House of Commons/PA)

That plan calls for:

– More required risk assessments by firms to spot cross-platform activity and disrupt grooming pathways

– Measures to stop abusers organising online

– Firms to have a named manager in charge of child safety

– More powers for the regulator to combat abuse in private messaging

– A statutory body to represent the interests of children

Figures obtained from police forces around the UK showed the number of offences relating to child abuse material peaked at 25,281 in 2020/21, up 37% from five years ago.

That included data from Police Scotland, which shows the number of offences relating to possessing, taking, making and distributing child abuse material in Scotland peaked at 660 last year – up 13% from 2019/20.

The coronavirus outbreak and lockdown also had an effect, the NSPCC said, with offences jumping nearly a fifth (18%) during the first year of the pandemic.

NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said: “The staggering amount of child sexual abuse image offences is being fuelled by the ease with which offenders are able to groom children across social media to produce and share images on an industrial scale.

Sir Peter Wanless
Sir Peter Wanless (Jon Challicom/NSPCC/PA)

“The Government recognises the problem and has created a landmark opportunity with the Online Safety Bill. We admire Nadine Dorries’ declared intent that child protection is her number one objective.

“But our assessment is that the legislation needs strengthening in clear and specific ways if it is to fundamentally address the complex nature of online abuse and prevent children from coming to avoidable harm.”

MPs and peers are scrutinising the Online Safety Bill, with their recommendations expected to be published in the coming days.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of children’s online safety charity the Internet Watch Foundation, said child sexual abuse online was reaching “monumental levels”.

“This year, we have already taken action on a record number of reports – removing millions and millions of videos and images of children having sexual torture and rape inflicted upon them from the open internet,” she said.

“These are real children, and their suffering can stay with them forever.

“The Online Safety Bill is a once-in-a-generation chance to make the internet a safer place for children. But make no mistake, if there is not a renewed focus on child safety right at the core of the legislation, it is the most vulnerable children who will be hurt.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “Our pioneering new laws will be the most comprehensive in the world in protecting children online.

“Social media companies will need to clamp down on child abuse content and prevent young people from being groomed or exposed to harmful material. If they fail to act they will face huge fines or have their sites blocked.”

By Press Association

More Technology News

See more More Technology News

Glastonbury Festival 2019

EE expects Glastonbury data usage to double at this year’s festival

Ford geofencing technology

Ford trials geofencing tech to automatically control vehicle speed

The Duomo in Milan on Google Street View

Google Street View’s ‘time travel’ feature comes to smartphones


Facebook and Instagram to reveal more on how ads target users

Mark Zuckerberg

Washington sues Mark Zuckerberg over Cambridge Analytica privacy breach

Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones

More powerful cameras key to smartphone success, says Google manager

An underwater drone on a ship deck

Underwater drone carries out first-ever offshore wind farm inspection

Child uses laptop

Create watchdog to protect children online, charity says

Technology Stock

Dark web ‘scramble’ over Buffalo attack amid fears of post-pandemic attacks

Technology stock

Twitter users told to be wary of scam messages about verified accounts

Computer virus stock

Scientists create tool to kill cyber attacks in ‘less than a second’

Attorney General Suella Braverman

International law should be applied to cyberspace, Attorney General to say

Games console controller

Gaming sector in Scotland needs UK-wide network to thrive, report warns

Sir Nick Clegg

Sir Nick Clegg says the metaverse is coming ‘one way or another’

A child at a computer

Online Safety Bill fails to stop violence against women and girls, experts warn

Coders race to take part in Robot Dog Olympics

Coders take part in Robot Dog Olympics to help develop tech solutions for Army