There's been a huge rise in creeps using Instagram to groom children

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  • Child groomers are increasingly using Instagram as a hunting ground, with their use of the platform more than tripling according to figures obtained by a children's charity.
  • The NSPCC found 22% of all 1,944 grooming offences recorded by British police forces over a six-month period last year took place on Instagram.
  • The timing of the findings is awkward for Facebook's social network, which is facing questions about child safety and the threat of more aggressive regulation.

Instagram is increasingly becoming a hunting ground for child groomers.

That's according to figures published on Friday by British children's charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), which were obtained from 39 police forces under Freedom of Information laws.

The NSPCC said Instagram was recorded as the method of communication for child groomers 428 times between April and September 2018. This was a 239% increase on, or more than triple, the 126 instances over the same period in 2017.

Adam Mosseri.JPGInstagram boss Adam Mosseri.Reuters

It meant that 22% of all 1,944 grooming offences recorded by 39 of the UK's 43 police forces last year occurred on the Facebook-owned social network.

Police also broke down which online platforms were used by groomers across 1,317 cases. Predatory behavior on Instagram made up 32% of these cases, ahead of Facebook and Snapchat, which were used in 23% and 14% of child grooming instances respectively.

The NSPCC found that girls aged 12 to 15 were most likely to be targeted by groomers, but victims did include children aged as young as five. Instagram's own rules state that users must be at least 13 years old, but the policy is easily circumvented.

The timing of the findings is awkward for Instagram. It comes amid growing fears for the safety of young people on its platform, as well as an increasingly hostile regulatory environment.

Read more: Facebook and Google will be punished with giant fines in the UK if they fail to rid their platforms of toxic content

"It is hugely concerning to see the sharp spike in grooming offences on Instagram, and it is vital that the platform designs basic protection more carefully into the service it offers young people," said NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless. "We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act."

Just last month, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri was in the UK to talk to politicians about Instagram being blamed for teen suicides following the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who had been looking at images of self-harm. Mosseri pledged to ban all graphic images of self-harm.

Last year, Business Insider discovered that Instagram's new TV service IGTV was recommending sexually suggestive videos of children. Instagram removed the videos and apologized.

An Instagram spokesman said: "Keeping young people safe on our platforms is our top priority and child exploitation of any kind is not allowed. We use advanced technology and work closely with the police and CEOP to aggressively fight this type of content and protect young people."

Online child grooming is an issue that the British government is planning to crack down on as part of new laws that will be introduced this year. Digital minister Margot James told Business Insider on Thursday that a new tech regulator could fine companies potentially billions of dollars if they fail to remove harmful content.

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