[Trigger warning] As a survivor of child sex abuse, I’m asking tech companies to do more to keep children safe online
JuliaMumsnet · 22/03/2022 16:14
Rhiannon was the victim of a sexual predator who befriended her via an online chatroom when she was 13. Here she explains why many children's charities are raising awareness among parents on the risks of end-to-end encryption and to help ensure that, if rolled out, safeguards are put in place to mean vast amounts of online child sex abuse won’t suddenly go undetected.
I was 13 years old when I was sexually abused and blackmailed by someone I met online. I speak from my own experience when I say the devastating impact of child sex abuse lasts a lifetime, not just for the child but for their entire family.
Much of this abuse happens on messaging platforms, where perpetrators can browse for children they don’t already know or trade images with other sex abusers.
In the last year alone, social media companies made over 21 million reports of online child sex abuse on their sites, containing over 60 million images.
These reports were a result of online safety systems used to detect and report suspected child sexual abuse. Facebook’s contribution is particularly significant, accounting for 94% of all reports made.
These reports play an important role in protecting children and stopping child sex offenders. This includes the case of David Wilson, a prolific paedophile who was identified when Facebook’s own safety systems meant he was reported to the National Crime Agency. Wilson had posed as a teenage girl and blackmailed 51 young boys into sending him extreme content, sometimes forcing them to take images abusing younger siblings. He was jailed for 21 years. Some of the boys were so traumatised they considered taking their own lives.
This important work makes it even more concerning that, from next year, Facebook intends to reduce its online reporting. They have announced plans to roll out end-to-end encryption by default, which means their automatic monitoring systems will no longer work. Facebook’s team acknowledges that the changes will lead to a reduction in their reporting, with estimates that 14 million reports of child sex abuse could be lost each year.
To mitigate against this, platforms have announced measures to educate children on resisting “unwanted attention.” This shows a complete misunderstanding of how adult abusers operate, and the highly manipulative grooming techniques they use. Most children do not report their abuse or even see themselves as victims.
It isn’t fair to expect children to be ‘better’ at keeping themselves safe online, nor should we expect parents to solve this global challenge on their own.
While UK legislation can and should play a part in putting a duty of care on providers, it cannot fight online child sex abuse alone. The internet is a global entity, with victims and perpetrators located around the world and tech companies often based in the US. That’s why tech companies must play their part.
Unsurprisingly, children’s charities, police, Interpol, tech experts and other survivors like me have all expressed concern. Yvette Cooper and Priti Patel agree on this. But so far, Facebook does not seem to be budging.
That’s why last week I wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to do everything he can to keep children safe on his platforms. This means making a commitment that any roll out of end-to-end encryption will be accompanied by safeguards to ensure it does not become harder to report abuse. While I’m not holding my breath on a reply, I’m willing to try anything. The stakes are too high.
As a child, I convinced myself that what happened was my fault, but I now know it wasn’t. If tech companies put in place end-to-end encryption without proper safeguards, they must accept the blame for the catastrophic impact that this will have on our children.
Rhiannon was the victim of a sexual predator who befriended her via an online chatroom when she was 13. After grooming Rhiannon online, the perpetrator went to her home to sexually abuse her and recorded the abuse with images and videos. Rhiannon was eventually able to move forward with her life and went on to study law at university and in 2019 qualified as a lawyer specialising in family law. Rhiannon now works at the Marie Collins Foundation as a Subject Matter Specialist, using her experience to inform professionals in the UK and around the world, speaking at conferences, events, within training programmes and to the media. She has also presented to young people and hopes her story will help others to recover and lead fulfilling lives.
AshUK · 23/03/2022 20:02
Very brave of you to speak out. Only so much mums can do it’s fair that these companies also do their big. But problem is do they even care
SolasAnla · 24/03/2022 10:40
Rhiannon thank you for the work you do 🌻
For any readers
Twitter allow children or minors from 13 upward to have accounts.
It allows searchable hastags eg
•MAP for minor attracted people
•NOMAP for non offending minor attracted people
There are other tags linking these accounts too.
It also allows unverified users to upload pornographic imagery, to advertise themselves selling their sexual services etc
Twitter has a reporting method for CSA, but users have to know where to look.
It was removed from the in tweet reporting system a number of years ago.
But if you have an account you can report a post.
Something may be not covered by US legislation but Irish legislation (where Twitter had its European HQ) includes visual representations, from cartoons to adults pretending to be under 18.
Toffeewhirl · 24/03/2022 10:47
Thank you for talking about this. It's shocking that FB are planning to go ahead with encryption, knowing that this allows paedophiles to go undetected.
And I'm so sorry about what happened to you.
EmperorsNewClothesBS · 24/03/2022 13:03
Rhiannon I’m so very sorry for what you went through.
That FB are reducing reporting is very telling.
Have you got a petition about this?
The Twitter handles are astonishing. Why the heck are those allowed? They directly enable abuse as far as I can see.
SparklingLime · 24/03/2022 13:47
I’m so sorry. You would have thought that CSE would be an absolute priority for Facebook, Twitter etc (behind their profits of course) but… no. An absolute failure of safeguarding and decency.
MrsOvertonsWindow · 24/03/2022 19:29
Thank you for doing this Rhiannon. I'm not sure how we can get Facebook and the rest to take safeguarding children seriously. Voices like yours need to be heard.
Onlythelaundryfairy · 24/03/2022 20:13
This is worrying. Why isn't there more publicity? Thank you for highlighting it and sharing your story Rhiannon.
EmperorsNewClothesBS · 24/03/2022 20:35
@Onlythelaundryfairy I have t heard about this anywhere but Mumsnet. Where is the mass media outrage??
Linguini · 24/03/2022 21:56
I was 16 when "the internet was invented in 1996"
Quote marks there because obviously there's room for error on exactly when it started but 1996 was pretty much the big boom.
There was a forum called "Microsoft Network" as I recall, quite prolific at it's peak, bit eventually faded away. People would type chat in various "rooms" as they were called, about topics that interested them.
Anyway I'd only discovered the internet for about a month, set up a username "Red" on the Network which was available (believe) to chat to people about some sort of game (now retro) that I no longer have any interest in whatsoever.
I immediately got chatting to some bloke looking for a "pen pal" who claimed also to be 16. He seemed nice on the private chat, we shared a common interest (so he said) and so I gave him my home address! Incredible. And my phone number! I honestly did.
Next thing he's sent me a photo of "himself" which was probably of his son through the post, then asked in chat "did you get my photo" to which I replied yes.
So this internet person knew my real address.
He rang me up a few times and the conversations we had were so utterly dodgy he was absolutely NOT a 16 year old boy interested in a now retro game. He was a giant manky old perv.
Thank Christ nothing more came of it other than a few phone calls that turned out to be of the "what are you wearing" sort. He never tried to get to my parents house or anything.
I think nowadays people are more aware but my mantra since the beginning of the internet has been "never trust anyone".
Anyone can claim to be anything behind a screen.
The internet has given rise to some absolutely incredible resources, like Mumsnet (thanks Justine!) Things like free music downloads and obscure specific gardening info that you couldn't get in libraries 20 years ago.
But it comes with huge downsides like extreme porn being available at a snap, extreme misogyny in forums like Reddit and the opportunity for total pervs to groom and manipulate young naïve girls. So education in this fast moving world is paramount.
Thanks for your work JuliaMumsnet. I'd like to be active in this area too.
AshUK · 24/03/2022 22:47
I completely agree I worry that they can just get away with it.
CharSiu · 25/03/2022 08:22
Online gaming is an area for grooming, most parents seem to worry about violence in games more than anything else, it really isn’t the biggest danger. On Xbox looking for group posts which all Xboxes have some will write looking for a girlfriend/boyfriend aged x. Or they will write role play or let’s play and it will say something that gives away it’ s a child requesting a game. Just as I only ever join posts that say adults only.
Specific games are also known to attract child sex abusers because the player base is mainly children such as Roblox. there are strict parental controls on Xbox and other consoles but many parents have no clue on how to use them.
DomesticatedZombie · 25/03/2022 12:44
Rhiannon, and thank you for your work.
I'm interested to see how this clear need for safeguarding is going to interact with and possibly impact on things like the Online Safety Bill.
Flipflopssndsocks · 26/03/2022 09:56
It beggars belief that this isn’t a higher priority.
wishmyhousetidy · 26/03/2022 20:09
Well done for highlighting this- i honestly think it is ridiculous how easy it is for children to go to really dark places on the internet that parental controls do not protect them from. I honestly wish it had never been invented and I know how ridiculous that sounds and how the internet does so much good, but I think it has damaged many childrens childhood - and I cannot see how it can be policed properly, well no one is willing to do that.
radsreds · 26/03/2022 20:20
It might be really difficult but these big platforms need to take some responsibility. They see profiting from the sexual exploitation of children…!
wishmyhousetidy · 26/03/2022 22:29
It might be really difficult but these big platforms need to take some responsibility. They see profiting from the sexual exploitation of children…![/quote]
Yes I do agree- my partner thinks they should be banned until they do make them safe. We have had personal experience in our family of the negative effects of the internet on children, and despite our best attempts as parents we failed in putting all the necessary controls on the internet and I agree much much more needs to be done and yes huge fines are the only thing that will make these companies do anything about it.
DowningStreetParty · 27/03/2022 23:01
Rhiannon, thank you. How are these companies going to be held to account? What can we do to help as parents? Why don’t the companies have a proper enforceable legal duty of care to their users, including children?
Why hasn’t the government acted on this, most importantly? It’s really scary.
If this was a real life premises in which children were this unsafe/at risk, and usually in there unsupervised, wouldn’t it be rightly, shut down immediately? What’s so different about the virtual world?
mistyoak · 28/03/2022 09:24
@DowningStreetParty I agree.
There seems to be a more lax set of rules for everything online-despite the trauma it causes.
oakleaffy · 29/03/2022 17:58
I noticed an offensive you tube comment by someone, about 10 yrs ago , and looked the person’s “Profile” up.
They had set to public some videos that I won’t describe here, but I reported the video at once.
What was so bad, a parent must clearly have given the child in question a webcam.
I sincerely hope You Tube have closed those loopholes now, to keep children safe.
The comments under the video were horrifying.
AshUK · 29/03/2022 20:11
I completely agree. Beggars belief these companies can get away with it
AshUK · 29/03/2022 20:17
Sadly so true. Imagine there was a real life premise where children played and the owners suddenly said ‘from now on we won’t check who is coming in, and wont check if they are abusing the children there.’
Isnt this tech companies doing the same thing but online??
DowningStreetParty · 30/03/2022 08:24
Exactly! And it’s as if the owners of the premises where the children play- when parents or the kids reported concerns about awful things that were repeatedly happening there-ignored them, did nothing, and knowingly let the abuse continue.
All the while the owners have also been painting up a massive sign to be read by businesses, the whole of society, everyone including very dodgy or criminal adults, saying ‘unsupervised are kids playing here, you can basically do what you want with them.’
It’s shocking. Governments who have let companies become more powerful than they are, need to team up with each other to take the power back and actually protect children against these companies.
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