Instagram was the most commonly used app by offenders for sexual communication with a child in the past year, a UK children’s charity has revealed.
Online grooming crimes recorded by UK police have jumped by nearly 70 percent since 2018, new figures from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) show.
Did you know that Instagram was the most commonly used app by offenders for sexual communication with a child in the past year? pic.twitter.com/YSB5QzSTEN
— NSPCC (@NSPCC) August 24, 2021
According to figures compiled by the charity from Freedom of Information requests to 42 police forces across England and Wales, 5,441 online grooming offences were recorded between April 2020 and March 2021, an increase of 69 percent from the 3,217 recorded in the same period in 2017–18.
Facebook-owned apps, including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, were used in almost half of the offences where the means of communication was known over the last 12 months.
Among these, Instagram was the most commonly used, the figures show.
Snapchat was also named in more than a quarter of cases where the communication form was known.
The charity said design flaws on social media platforms are being exploited by offenders, enabling younger users to be targeted.
“Year after year tech firms’ failings result in more children being groomed and record levels of sexual abuse,” said Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC.
The charity urged tech firms such as Facebook to invest in technology that would allow the firms to identify and disrupt such activities even if all its platforms begin using end-to-end encryption.
Facebook said online grooming is “abhorrent behaviour” and the company is “determined to continue developing new ways to prevent, detect, and respond to abuse.”
NSPCC also called on the government to take more robust action to combat the rise of online grooming.
It urged the government to “ensure the Online Safety Bill does everything necessary to prevent online abuse.”
The draft Online Safety Bill is due to be scrutinised by a joint committee of MPs and peers from September. It is set to be the first major set of regulations for the internet anywhere in the world.
It aims to protect people from “harmful content” as well as to “uphold democratic debate online,” according to a government statement.
But campaign groups fear that the proposed rules are too vague and could lead to free speech being eroded.
PA contributed to this report.