Research by NSPCC shows for the first time how certain characteristics make children more vulnerable to being abused on social media.
It comes after the charity warned coronavirus has created the perfect storm for offenders looking to target lonely, socially isolated children as they increasingly spend time online.
More than 2,000 young people, aged between 11 and 17, were surveyed by the NSPCC last year, with per cent confirming they had sent, received or been asked to send sexual messages to an adult online.
This doubled to nine per cent for respondents with characteristics that may make them vulnerable, including loneliness, greater usage of social media, unhappiness and liking attention.
Abusers will often target children who have expressed vulnerability online, mainly through sharing thoughts and feelings in social media posts and livestreams, which many children are likely to be doing now.
The survey also revealed that nine per cent of respondents had sent, received or been asked to send sexual messages to another young person, which more than doubled to 20 per cent for those with the same vulnerable characteristics.
Self-generated images account for a growing proportion of child abuse images, whether these are shared on a consensual basis or are the result of peer-to-peer grooming.
But if that gets shared, the sender loses control of how it’s used and leaves the child exposed to bullying, blackmail, online grooming and abuse.
Andy Burrows, NSPCC head of child safety cnline policy, said: “Through this survey, we have heard the voices of lonely, vulnerable children and discovered how much more exposed they are to online abuse.
“It’s particularly worrying during the lockdown as it is clear now that it has never been easier for abusers to exploit lonely children who are spending a lot of time online.
“This crisis has exposed the child protection cracks that were already there in social networks so now more than ever tech firms must ensure their services are safe.”