BRITAIN’S youngsters are being targeted by paedos in record numbers – with as many as 200,000 teenagers “groomed” on social networks.
Latest figures from the NSPCC reveal how sickos are hunting for teens on popular apps like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The charity warns that one child in 25 using Snapchat had been “sent, received or been asked to send” sexual content to, from or by an adult.
The same proportion of teens had also experienced similar grooming on Facebook or Facebook Messenger.
As many as one in 33 had been targeted using Twitch and Twitter, and one in 50 had been “groomed” over Instagram and WhatsApp.
The NSPCC described social networks as a “gateway for child abusers”, because they allow adults to contact a large number of children.
Typically, these sickos will then push children onto livestreaming and encrypted messaging apps.
Once out of public sight, offenders will often obtain images that can be used to blackmail teens into generating more child abuse images.
“The scale of the risk that children face on social networks revealed in this research cannot be ignored,” said NSPCC chief Peter Wanless.
“And tackling it with robust and comprehensive legislation needs to be a priority for this government.
“Tech firms need to be forced to get a grip of the abuse taking place on their sites by using technology to identify suspicious behaviour and designing young people’s accounts with built-in protections.”
What can tech firms do?
The NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign has been calling for a regulator to require platforms to take proactive action to identify and prevent grooming on their sites by:
- Using Artificial Intelligence to detect suspicious behaviour
- Sharing data with other platforms to better understand the methods offenders use and flag suspicious accounts
- Turning off friend suggestion algorithms for children and young people, as they make it easier for groomers to identify and target children
One youngster, named as Ben in the report, was 14 when he was tricked into thinking he was speaking to a girl on Facebook.
The “girl”, who posed as a friend of a friend, chatted to Ben for three weeks – before revealing their true identity as a man.
This predator threatened and blackmailed Ben into sending sexual images and performing sex acts live on Skype.
These images were then shared with five other man.
After two years, Ben tried to take his own life. Just one week later, the abuse was discovered and the main perpetrator was jailed for four-and-a-half years.
“He made dark threats against my mum and dad, he said he was going to kill them unless I sent some photos,” Ben explained.
“He knew everything about my parents; their names, where they worked, where they socialised. I was scared he’d really do it, so I sent them.
“Once he had some photographs, he started to up the demands using the photos as blackmail. He had used Snapchat to find out who my best friends were and he said he was going to send the photos to them.
“It didn’t stop there. He sent all the pictures and videos to other men, who started bombarding me with requests and demands.
“I just thought if I did what they asked, they would stop. But they didn’t, it got worse.”
The NSPCC is now calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to keep to the Government’s commitment to introduce an Online Harms Bill by early next year.
This will force tech firms to “exercise a duty of care” and protect children from abuse on their platforms.
We’ve asked Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for comment and will update this story with any response.
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Last year, we revealed how paedos are grooming children live on YouTube.
Facebook was accused of encouraging grooming as teen girls were being offered naked men as “friend suggestions”.
And one boy, 12, was groomed on Snapchat by a perv promising £500 of Fortnite video game currency.
Do you think tech firms need to crack down harder on online grooming? Let us know in the comments!
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