Abuse and neglect blog – steps to tackle online child abuse

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As noted in previous blogs, internet use in the UK continues to grow, as does online child abuse. The NSPCC reports that online child abuse crimes soared by 78% between 2017 and 2021. In 2020, 9,742 online child sexual offenses were recorded by 41 police forces. Due to difficulties in capturing all incidents of child abuse online, the numbers are actually expected to be higher. Without action or intervention, one would expect it to increase further.

The Online Safety Bill creates a new legal framework to identify and remove illegal and harmful content online. One of the purposes of this legislation is to protect children from online sexual exploitation and abuse. The proposed legislation tackles the problem by regulating tech companies. While the Bill is in the final stages of its passage through the Houses of Parliament, the Bill has suffered delays.

There are currently organizations using technology to combat online child abuse. Two such organizations are Natterhub and the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). Although the two are different in their product, their similarity is that they work to prevent online child abuse from the core.

Natterhub is an online safety platform that provides educational content for children. Their #HaveTheConversation campaign aims to encourage conversation about online safety at home and at school. It’s about equipping elementary-aged children with the ability to spot online dangers and navigate the online world safely.

An abuser does not need to be physically present in the online abuse. Natterhub reported that 50% of all 10-11 year olds have a device in their bedroom at night. They state, “If we can facilitate timely and engaging conversations with children, at school and at home, this scenario should be entirely avoidable.”

The IWF uses Intelligrade, a highly developed software that allows its analysts to classify sexual abuse images and videos. Intelligrade creates a unique fingerprint against images and videos. If they reappear online, the content can be identified and removed. This will help prevent the spread of content.

One of Intelligrade’s goals is to create “a harmonized, globally compatible data set” of fingerprints to help tech companies protect their customers and users from the distribution of child pornography content on their platforms.

The IWF states that one of the main benefits of Intelligrade is that the generated fingerprints are compatible with child sexual abuse laws in several jurisdictions, including the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Such technology can be widely used by UK tech companies to help them meet their legal obligations proposed by the Online Safety Bill.

The use of technology is a double-edged sword. Although it enables the spread of child abuse online, it can also be used positively to fight against the same. Nattergrade and Intelligrade are two positive examples of this, where they strive to eradicate online child abuse from its origin and to protect the victims of such abuse.

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