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  1. ITV Report

Exclusive: Internet giants 'enabling paedophiles to abuse', police chief warns

  • By Sejal Karia and Jamie Roberton: ITV News

Internet giants are "fundamentally enabling" paedophiles to sexually abuse children, the police chief in charge of child protection has told ITV News.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey accused companies of failing to take steps to stop their sites being used to facilitate child abuse.

He warned the threat from sex offenders on online platforms - specifically citing live streaming apps and chatrooms - was growing at a "phenomenal pace", putting children at "really significant" risk.

Asked whether internet firms were letting children down, Mr Bailey replied: "Yes..without any doubt at all. They are making some progress but it is nowhere near enough.

"These companies are making sums of money which are huge, but the fact is that children are being abused and not enough is being done to make chatrooms safe places for our children to go and not enough is being done to take down indecent imagery which is out there.

“They have a moral and social responsibility to make their platforms safe."

Mr Bailey, who is the lead officer for child protection at the National Police Chiefs Councils, added: "Absolutely no question at all - they [internet companies] are fundamentally enabling it."

His condemnation comes as police deal with an overwhelming spike in the number of reported online child abuse.

The internet and evolving technology have afforded offenders access to prey on the young at an unprecedented rate.

Government figures, released late last year, revealed a 700% increase in the number of indecent images referred to law enforcement agencies since 2013.

Police are arresting an average of 400 people every month for viewing child abuse material but Mr Bailey warned that there are "tens of thousands" more interested in sexually abusing children.

700%
increase in number of indecent images referred to police between 2013 and 2017
400
people arrested every month for viewing child abuse material

Internet firms, he argued, had a duty to respond more vigorously.

"Intelligence is being shared but that's not the point.

"The point is that I believe those images that are out there could and should all be taken down and chatrooms should be being policed and they should make sure two young people who want to have a conversation in a chatroom can do it safely without facing the threat of an adult coming into that room, trying to groom them with one thing and one thing alone on their mind - and that is their sexual exploitation."

He added: "If I was to set-up a shop on the high street and - regardless of any how many millions of pounds I made in that shop and how many people I employed - if a product of my business on the high street was that children were being sexually abused, how long would that business be open for?"

Kyran Peet was groomed online and abused by an older man at the age of 13.

Now 20, Kyran has waived his right to anonymity to warn young people about the potential dangers of social media.

"Part of me thinks - regardless of what internet companies do - people like this will find a way to do something horrible but there are definitely ways to prevent it," he said.

"When you're that age...you think you're more mature than you are but you are naive and young whether you like it or not.

"If you're online, you only need close friends and family. You don't need to make contacts at that age - you're fine surrounded by people who you know and to not branch out because online can be a scary place."

Carly Adams, who works with victims of child abuse at the Children's Society, said the government needed to consider taking tougher action to hold internet companies to account.

"If they [internet firms] are in a position where they have access to information about children that are being abused or exploited then they absolutely have to do something and if they are not, then the government needs to hold them to account," she said.

In response to our interview with Simon Bailey, a spokesperson for Facebook told ITV News that it had a "zero tolerance" approach to child sexual exploitation, while Snapchat said the safety of its users was a "top priority".

  • Facebook and Instagram

We have zero tolerance for child exploitation on Facebook and Instagram.

We proactively search for and take down this kind of content and immediately alert the police to potential offenders and young people at risk.

We’ve spent the past decade working with safety experts including the Internet Watch Foundation, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command and the UK Safer Internet Centre to develop powerful tools to combat this kind of activity and we have a global team responding around the clock to reports from our communities.

– Facebook and Instagram
  • Snapchat

The safety of our community is our top priority and we go to great lengths to prevent and respond to any instance of child exploitation on our platform.

Our dedicated trust and safety team and law enforcement operations team work round the clock to enforce our policies and work closely with law enforcement and national organisations to prevent and respond to this type of illegal activity.

– Snapchat spokesperson
  • Live.me

Live.me is extremely invested in creating a positive and safe community for its users. Through human moderators and artificial intelligence, Live.me has continued to focus on users' safety and as the social platform grows, additional measures are being added and scaled up to combat community policy violations. Live.me does, however, take issue with the accusation of 'fundamentally enabling child sex abuse', which we believe shows a lack of understanding of social media platforms on the agency's part.

We have invested and continue to invest significant resources to develop the tools, technology, systems, and processes to combat some of the dangers that exist on social platforms, including, but not limited to grooming.

We work closely with law enforcement agencies across the globe to support investigations while navigating complex privacy issues. Instead, we would love to see these agencies provide guidance and leadership to make reporting and escalation more universal and accessible for all internet apps and services.

– Live.me spokesperson