Child grooming offences in Notts sparks NSPCC’s call for tough action on tech firms

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Grooming offences totalling 166 have been recorded by Nottinghamshire Police over the last two years.

There were 80 offences of sexual communication with a child in the year to April 2019, a slight fall on the 86 recorded during the previous 12 months.

Online social network sites Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat were used in 62% of the instances where Nottinghamshire Police recorded and provided the communication method over the two-year period. Instagram was used in 17% of them.

The data was supplied by the NSPCC following a Freedom of Information request.

Police forces across England and Wales were contacted by the charity which found that, where age was provided, one in five victims were aged just 11 or younger.

The Government has indicated it will publish a draft Online Harms Bill early next year, following the NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign.  The proposals would introduce independent regulation of social networks, with tough sanctions if they fail to keep children safe on their platforms.

The NSPCC believes it is crucial that Boris Johnson’s Government makes a public commitment to draw up these Online Harms laws and implement robust regulation for tech firms to force them to protect children as a matter of urgency.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “It’s now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.

“Despite the huge amount of pressure that social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day. These figures are yet more evidence that social networks simply won’t act unless they are forced to by law. The Government needs to stand firm and bring in regulation without delay.”

The NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign is calling for social media regulation to require platforms to:

l Take proactive action to identify and prevent grooming on their sites by:

l Using Artificial Intelligence to detect suspicious behaviour

l Sharing data with other platforms to better understand the methods offenders use and flag suspicious accounts

l Turning off friend suggestion algorithms for children and young people, as they make it easier for groomers to identify and target children

l Design young people’s accounts with the highest privacy settings.