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The independent London newspaper

Social networks must be regulated to ‘grooming’ of children

14 September, 2018

• THE home secretary laid down a much-needed challenge to big tech companies. Sajid Javid demanded change to protect children from online groomers and urged the industry to tackle the vile trade in indecent images.

And not before time. NSPCC research shows the equivalent of one child in every primary school classroom surveyed has been sent a naked or semi-naked image from an adult; and one in 50 had sent a nude or semi-nude image to an adult. That is appalling, and something no child should have to experience.

In the last year alone, police in England and Wales recorded more than 3,000 offences of sending a sexual message to a child, including 144 in London. But this isn’t inevitable. Those images and messages are sent through social networks and texting apps, which recklessly expose children to content and behaviours completely inappropriate for their age.

Technology has developed at such a pace that government, legislation and society have failed to keep up. And one result is that social networks have become a gateway to child abuse. The government must now force social networks to tackle the problem and that means changing the law.

The NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign is calling on Mr Javid and culture secretary Jeremy Wright to create an independent regulator, with the power to investigate and to fine social networks which fall short. Sites must be required to take proactive steps to detect grooming, so abuse can be disrupted before it escalates.

In the coming months government will publish its white paper setting out proposals for what social network regulation could look like. The NSPCC will be doing all we can to make sure these laws are fit for purpose, and we’re asking parents, grand-parents, millennials, students, everyone, to sign our petition to tell Mr Wright and Mr Javid how important this issue is.

Social networks must be properly regulated for the sake of children today and generations to come. To sign the #WildWestWeb petition visit www.nspcc.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigns/wild-west-web.

DES MANNION
NSPCC Regional Head of Service for London and the South East

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