Facebook ‘fuels child grooming’: Rise in offences is blamed on tech giant as it emerges online cases rocketed during Covid pandemic… and almost half were carried out via apps owned by the company, NSPCC report claims
- Online grooming of children shot up during pandemic, a major report has found
- Data showed almost half of offences carried out via apps owned by Facebook
- NSPCC said offences of sexual communication with children recorded by police went up by nearly 70 per cent between 2018 and 2021
Online grooming of children shot up during the pandemic with almost half of offences carried out via apps owned by Facebook, a major report said yesterday.
The NSPCC said offences of sexual communication with a child recorded by police went up nearly 70 per cent between 2018 and 2021.
In the 12 months following the beginning of the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, offences documented went up by 9 per cent to a record 5,441.
Online grooming of children shot up during the pandemic with almost half of offences carried out via apps owned by Facebook, a major report said yesterday. Picture: Stock
The charity blamed social media giant Facebook for failing to remove as much abusive material from its sites during the pandemic as it normally did.
The NSPCC report said that ‘Facebook-owned apps, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, were used in almost half of offences where the means of communication was known in 2020/21.’
It added: ‘The true scale of grooming is likely to be higher as Facebook tech failures saw a drop in removal of abuse material during the pandemic.’
The charity called for the strengthening of the Government’s Online Safety Bill, which MPs and peers will revise next month, and said it should include measures to ensure that managers at social media firms like Facebook who make abusive messages easier to send are personally liable.
Raped and killed aged 15
At the age of 15, Kayleigh Haywood was groomed online and then raped and killed in a forest.
After being contacted on Facebook by paedophile Luke Harlow in November 2015, the pair exchanged 2,643 increasingly explicit messages via text and online over a 13-day period.
Kayleigh, from Measham, Leicestershire, ended up meeting up with Harlow and being plied with alcohol.
Kayleigh Haywood was groomed online and then raped and killed in a forest
The paedophile was then joined by neighbour Stephen Beadman.
The schoolgirl was held prisoner by the pair for six hours before being raped in the woods by Beadman.
He then killed the teenager with a brick.
Beadman was sentenced to a minimum term of 35 years, while Harlow was jailed for 12 years for sexual touching and falsely imprisoning Kayleigh.
The judge at the trial said the case highlighted the dangers young social media users faced.
The pressure for tighter regulation will ratchet up already high levels of controversy around the Bill – with senior media figures concerned about the powers it gives Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and social media platforms to block or remove news content.
The report, based on freedom of information material gathered from 42 police forces in England and Wales, said there were 5,441 sexual communication with a child offences recorded between April 2020 and March 2021.
This was an increase of 69 per cent from 3,217 in the same 12 months of 2017 and 2018, following the establishment of the offence in 2015.
The law makes it a crime for someone over 18 to use the internet to try and get a sexual response from a child under 16 and carries a maximum sentence of five years’ jail.
The NSPCC said: ‘When comparing data provided by the same 42 police forces for 2019/20, there was also an annual increase of 9 per cent – making the number of crimes recorded last year a record high.
Instagram was the most common site used by offenders, flagged by police in 32 per cent of instances where the platform was known last year.’
NSPCC accused tech firms of failing children during lockdown because of ‘historic inaction to design their sites safely for young users’.
Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said: ‘Year after year tech firms’ failings result in more children being groomed and record levels of sexual abuse… The Government must put child protection front and centre of legislation and ensure the Online Safety Bill does everything necessary to prevent online abuse.’
Facebook said it works quickly to find, remove and report this ‘abhorrent behaviour’. It added: ‘We also block adults from messaging under 18s they are not connected with and have introduced technology that makes it harder for potentially suspicious accounts to find young people.
‘With tens of millions of people in the UK using our apps every day, we are determined to continue developing new ways to prevent, detect and respond to abuse.’
Facebook also said it had this year implemented similar measures on Instagram.
The firm added: ‘We are designing ways to catch those who, despite our best prevention efforts, violate our policies to cause harm.’