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More than 5,000 online grooming offences have been recorded by police in England and Wales in just 18 months, data obtained by the NSPCC has revealed.
The recorded use of Instagram has risen dramatically over the 18 month period. From April 2017 to September 2017, where the communication method was recorded, Instagram was used by groomers in 126 instances, whereas between April 2018 and September 2018 it was recorded 428 times – more than a 200% increase1.
565 grooming offences were recorded by police forces in the North West between April 2017 and April 2018.
The data obtained from 39 of the 43 forces in England and Wales, under Freedom of Information laws, also shows that in the latest six month period, girls aged 12 to 15 were most likely to be targeted by groomers and victims included children as young as five years old.
Ahead of the imminent publication of the Government’s Online Harms White Paper, the NSPCC is urging ministers to tame the Wild West Web by bringing in statutory regulation to enforce a legal duty of care to children on social networks, backed by hefty fines if they fail.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks.
“We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act. 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.
“After 10 years of failed self-regulation by social networks, it is crucial that the Government’s imminent Online Harms White Paper includes new laws that tackle online grooming once and for all.”
Internet companies are being pushed to do more to combat this but parents – even those with limited knowledge of social media – can also take steps to make them feel more comfortable about how their children use the internet.
Here is a look at a number of ways parents can help keep their children safe online.
Most internet-connected devices offer parental control systems but users can also choose to install their own.
Both iOS and Google offer features that enable parents to not only filter content but also set time limits on how long children can use certain apps.
For iOS devices, such as an iPhone or iPad, you can make use of the Screen Time feature to block certain apps, content types or functions.
On iOS 12, this can be done by going to settings and selecting Screen Time.
For Android, you can install the Family Link app from the Google Play Store.
Games consoles also support parental controls that can be set up manually – the UK Safer Internet Centre offers downloadable guides for different consoles on its website.
Many internet service providers offer content filters, which can be used to block certain websites being accessed from specific devices via a home Wi-Fi network.
In some cases, this can also be used to set time limits.
Visit your service provider’s website for more details but it should be noted these features will only work while a device is connected to a home broadband network so additional steps will need to be taken to secure devices when being used outside the home.
Some concerns around social media can be better approached if parents know how the various platforms operate.
Net Aware, a website run in partnership between the NSPCC and O2, offers a range of useful information about each social network, including guidance on minimum age requirements and the types of content usually shared on that platform.
Many charities, including the NSPCC, stress that talking to children “openly and regularly” is the best way to keep them safe online.
Its website features a number of tips on how to start a conversation with children about using social media and the wider internet, including having parents visit sites with their children to learn about them together and discussing how to stay safe online and acting responsibly.
Net Aware also offers a free helpline for any further questions or advice, which is on 0808 800 5002.
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