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12 Nov, 2020 11:37

Facebook-owned apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram used in over half of online grooming cases in England and Wales

Facebook-owned apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram used in over half of online grooming cases in England and Wales

New research from a children’s charity has warned that grooming crimes increased by 10 percent to 1,220 during the three months of lockdown, with more than half taking place on apps owned by the tech giant Facebook.

A study released on Thursday by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) highlights that online cases of sexual communication with a child increased by 10 percent between March and June, the first three months of the Covid-19 induced lockdown. 

The figures, provided by 38 police forces in England and Wales, show that apps owned by the social media giant Facebook, notably WhatsApp and Instagram, were responsible for 51% of online grooming cases where a site was mentioned.

Instagram saw the largest rise in use by online child grooming offenders. The study found that the app was used in 37 percent of grooming cases where the platform was recorded, a 40 percent increase from previous years. 

Disappearing picture messaging app, Snapchat, was used in 20 percent of cases.

The report highlights that online offences have increased annually, with total of 12,925 cases being recorded by police over the last three years.

NSPCC chief executive, Peter Wanless says the pandemic has created the “perfect storm” for increased online grooming crimes and warned that the worrying figures could get worse.

“Families have long paid the price for big tech’s failure to protect children from abuse, but the Prime Minister has the chance to turn the tide and put responsibility on firms to clean up the mess they created,” Wanless said.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, supported the call, adding “in an increasingly digitally connected world, perpetrators of child abuse are conducting more and more of their activities online. Offenders use the internet to access and share child abuse images, and to make contact with and groom children directly.” 

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