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NSPCC wants fines for social networks that fail to protect children

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The NSPCC has called for fines on social networks that fail to protect their child users from online predators.

The charity said Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were used in nearly 70 per cent of child grooming offences in England and Wales over 12 months from April 2017.

It wants the government to appoint an independent regulator with the power to investigate and fine social networks if they fall short in protecting children.

“Technology has developed so rapidly that governments, legislation and society have failed to keep up, resulting in social networks often becoming a gateway to child abuse,” said Des Mannion, head of service at NSPCC Cymru.

“The NSPCC believes the dangerous side of the internet and social media, the ‘Wild West Web’, has claimed too many victims.

“Sites must be required to take proactive steps to detect grooming, so that abuse can be disrupted before it escalates and social networks must be forced to publish annual transparency reports about the scale of abuse on their platforms.

The UK Government has pledged to introduce legislation to keep social networks in check, with a white paper expected in the coming months.

“The UK Government’s digital secretary Jeremy Wright and home secretary Sajid Javid have the power in their hands and they now need to take effective action,” Mannion added.

“Social networks must be properly regulated for the sake of children today and for generations to come.”

A spokesman for Facebook said: “The exploitation of children on the internet is a challenge we take extremely seriously. We work closely with child protection experts, the police and other technology companies to block and remove exploitative photos and videos, as well as to prevent grooming online.

“We proactively search for activity which has the hallmarks of grooming and where we detect a threat of imminent harm, we report it to the police. We publish a regular Transparency Report which explains how we enforce our policies.”

A Government spokesman said: “The Home Secretary has been unequivocal in his demands for web giants to remove child sexual abuse content from their platforms and tackle online grooming.

“New legislation will be informed by the action and attitude that industry takes right now and we will be setting out our plans for legislation in the forthcoming ‘online harms’ white paper.”

Meanwhile, a watchdog has questioned whether new laws will solve the problem of terror content and plotting on social media.

Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Max Hill QC warned that driving material into “underground spaces” could prove counter-productive.

Concerns over the availability of material such as execution videos, recruitment campaigns and bomb-making instructions on the internet intensified after a wave of terrorist atrocities hit Britain in 2017.

Security chiefs and ministers have also flagged up the challenge of stopping plots, given the widespread availability of end-to-end encryption, which means messages and communications are encoded so only the sending and receiving devices can read them.

In his annual report for 2017, published on Wednesday, Hill said: “Where these awful crimes are facilitated by the use of social media, we want to close down the criminals’ ability to communicate.

“And yet, we must recognise that policing the internet and controlling social media comes at a very high price if it interferes with the freedom of communication which every citizen enjoys and which is also enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“This is uncertain territory. Driving material, however offensive, from open availability into underground spaces online would be counter-productive if would-be terrorists could still access it.”

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