Instagram: A Gateaway for Child Exploitation
Sun, April 18, 2021

Instagram: A Gateaway for Child Exploitation

Children are expected to enjoy their childhood and learn the necessary skills and values they need as they grow up. However, their innocence can lead to their being exploited / Photo by: Dani Aláez via Wikimedia Commons

 

Children are expected to enjoy their childhood and learn the necessary skills and values they need as they grow up. However, their innocence can lead to their being exploited. Child exploitation is the act of using a child for gratification or profit, often resulting in their unjust, cruel, and harmful treatment.

Child exploitation involves grooming, live streaming, consuming child sexual abuse material, and coercing and blackmailing children for various purposes. Despite laws and organizations working to stop this, child exploitation continues to destroy children’s lives and corrupt their future. The Associated Press reported that there has been a rise in child exploitation cases over the past few years. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) initiated more than 4,000 child exploitation cases which resulted in more than 3,000 arrests and the identification of more than 1,000 victims.

According to The Epoch Times, a multi-language newspaper, the recent data are higher compared to previous years. While we have seen roughly 4,000 cases over the past two years, there are fewer arrests and fewer victims identified. The HSI investigators reported that easier encryption tools and cheaper online storage are massively increasing, adding to the number of exploitative images posted and traded online. 

Child Exploitation on Social Media Apps

The increasing cases of child exploitation are driven by the Internet and social media. These have become an avenue for perpetrators to look for children and turn them into victims, manipulating them into doing what they want. For instance, a mother in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, discovered that YouTube's automated recommendation system was providing videos featuring children in swimsuits to pedophiles. This was after a video of her 10-year-old daughter and a friend playing in a backyard pool quickly gained more than 400,000 views. 

John F. Clark, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reported that the risk of child exploitation is increasing. The agency received more than 18 million reports of international and domestic online sexual abuse last year. Unfortunately, tech giants including Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon have been ignoring the call for a safer online platform for kids. YouTube has not made any move to revise its video recommendation system. 

US senator Joshua David Hawley believes that part of the business model of some tech companies is "being callous toward children's safety.” "I think we can agree that exploiting children online is one of the worst dangers and one of the worst social threats that we face," he said. Thus, Stephen Balkman, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, emphasized the importance of parents being educated on the apps, games, and sites their kids are using. 

The increasing cases of child exploitation are driven by the Internet and social media. These have become an avenue for perpetrators to look for children and turn them into victims / Photo by: Jason Howie via Flickr

 

The Biggest Child Grooming Online

Instagram is a great online platform to share your life through photos. For most people, it is a way to connect with others and check on their favorite celebrities. However, Instagram has also become the leading platform for child grooming in the UK. 

A study conducted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) showed that there has been “a 200 percent rise in recorded instances in the use of Instagram to target and abuse children” and more than 5,000 recorded crimes "of sexual communication with a child.” There were 1,944 incidents of sexual communication with children in the six months to September 2018 recorded by police in England and Wales. 

Out of 1,317 cases, Instagram was used by 32 percent, followed by Facebook with 23 percent, and Snapchat with 14 percent. According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, Peter Wanless, the NSPCC’s CEO, stated that the figures are overwhelming evidence showing that social media is not a safe space for kids.

“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 offenses on Instagram, and it is vital that the platform designs basic protection more carefully into the service it offers young people,” Wanless said. 

Instagram is a great online platform to share your life through photos. For most people, it is a way to connect with others and check on their favorite celebrities / Photo by: Max Pixel

 

The NSPCC reported that while there have been many victims under the age of 11 and some as young as five, the primary age group being targeted is 12-15 years of age. Unfortunately, there’s a high possibility that the real number of cases is much higher than those reported to the police. #WildWestWeb, the NSPCC’s ongoing campaign calling for statutory regulation of social media, stated that social networks have become a gateway for child abuse, with 10 online grooming offenses being recorded every day in the UK. 

According to Fortune, an American multinational business magazine, Facebook identifies almost 95 percent of posts on Instagram showing child exploitation before users report them. This figure is an increase from 93 percent during the previous quarter. To address the issue, Facebook recently removed nearly 750,000 posts on Instagram containing images of nude and sexually exploited children during the third quarter. This is apart from removing tens of millions of posts, photos and videos on their social media site over the past six months. These posts violated its terms of service that restrict the use of child pornography, drug and gun sales, and terrorism.

The tech giant emphasized how social networks have become a popular destination for pedophiles. “It’s worth remembering that this is a tiny fraction of the content on Facebook and Instagram, and we remove much of it before anyone ever sees it,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. 

Social media is never a safe space for children. This only exposes them to people who want to take advantage of them. Parents need to start monitoring their kids’ social media use to prevent their children from becoming victims of exploitation.