The children’s charity, NSPCC, is calling for Facebook to issue a ‘guarantee of child safety; after stats obtained by the charity revealed the extent of child abuse images shared on platforms owned by the tech giant.
Bedfordshire was in the top five for the most amount of child abuse images shared across Facebook owned platforms in the East of England.
The call comes as Facebook details encryption plans for Messenger and Instagram which the NSPCC says will make it a one stop grooming shop.
The NSPCC found Facebook apps were used 482 times in child abuse images & child sex offences in the East of England last year
They now believe thousands of online child sex crimes recorded in England and Wales could go undetected if Facebook introduces end-to-end encryption in its apps.
Nationally, police recorded over 4,000 instances last year, where Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp were used in child abuse image and online child sexual offences. An average of 11 times a day.
In Bedfordshire, 83 were recorded.
|Police Force||Total Online Offences||Facebook/Facebook Messenger|
The NSPCC warns crimes will go undetected if Facebook continues with plans to encrypt messaging without first putting clear safeguards in place.
Encryption on the platforms would mean it would no longer be able to see and report illegal content to law enforcement, with police left working in the dark to detect child abuse crimes.
What is end-to-end encryption?
When you send a normal text message on your phone the tech company sending the message store it on their platform, and can see it in addition to the person you’re sending it to.
When you use a platform that has end-to-end encryption enabled only you and the person you’re sending the message to can see the content.
What are the dangers of encryption?
Encryption means that tech companies will not be able to see what images and messages are being exchanged on their service.
The associated dangers with this means that crimes will go undetected if Facebook continues with its plans to encrypt all its apps without first putting clear safeguards in place.
The NSPCC have cited a Mark Zuckerberg blog which they say shows he admits this himself: “Encryption is a powerful tool for privacy, but that includes the privacy of people doing bad things.”
It also means that law enforcement will not be able to detect, investigate, and stop child abuse.
The NSPCC believes more serious child abuse will take place on Facebook’s sites as abusers won’t have to move their victims off the platform to other encrypted ones to groom and exploit them.
The charity also believes more serious child abuse will take place on Facebook owned apps as abusers won’t have to move their victims off the platform to other encrypted ones to groom and exploit them.
The data obtained by the NSPCC found that, of the total number of incidents where the method was recorded, 22% were on Instagram and 19% on Facebook or Facebook Messenger.
Only a small percentage (3%) were recorded on WhatsApp which is already encrypted, highlighting how much more difficult it becomes to detect crimes.
Andy Burrows, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online Policy, said: “Instead of working to protect children and make the online world they live in safer, Facebook is actively choosing to give offenders a place to hide in the shadows and risks making itself a one stop grooming shop.
“For far too long Facebook’s mantra has been to move fast and break things but these figures provide a clear snapshot of the thousands of child sex crimes that could go undetected if they push ahead with their plans unchecked.
“If Facebook fails to guarantee encryption won’t be detrimental to children’s safety, the next Government must make clear they will face tough consequences from day one for breaching their Duty of Care.”
The NSPCC is calling for:
- No end-to-end encryption for messages going to or coming from children’s accounts on Facebook apps
- Adults accounts not to be encrypted until and unless Facebook has solutions to ensure child abuse can be detected and that children safety won’t be compromised
- The next Government to push ahead with introducing an independent Duty of Care regulator to keep children safe online
- The next Government to warn Facebook that encryption breaches the incoming Duty of Care and pressing ahead will mean tough consequences
The NSPCC has also issued stories of victims of child abuse to show the extent their concern.
- “I feel I am being forced to be in a relationship with an older man I met online. He makes me send him pictures of myself on Instagram that I don’t feel comfortable sending” – Girl, 12 years old
- “I met a girl on Facebook who I thought was my age. We had an online relationship for months and then she started asking me for nude pictures of myself. It turns out this woman wasn’t who she said she was and the pictures were leaked onto child porn sites.” – Boy, 15 years old.
- “I met a guy on Instagram and we developed an online relationship. He convinced me to send pictures of myself which was sexual. Now he has threatened he would share those pictures to my friends unless I send him more. I don’t know what to do and I’m too scared to tell my mum in case I get in trouble.” – Girl, 13
All names and potentially identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the child or young person. Quotes are created from real Childline service users but are not necessarily direct quotes from the child or young person.
If you are a child who is worried or thinks they have been a victim of online sexual abuse of any kind, Childline offers a safe, confidential place for you to talk about what’s happening to you.
Whatever your worry, whatever you need help with, Childline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Just call, 0800 1111 (all calls are free) or log onto the 1-2-1 counsellor chat at Childline.org.uk.
The NSPCC also offer a helpline where adults can get advice and support, share their concerns about a child or get general information about child protection.
This helpline is also open 365 days a year. Just call 0808 800 5000.