Facebook used in four online grooming offences in Derbyshire

Facebook and apps owned by Facebook were used in more than half of online grooming cases
Facebook and apps owned by Facebook were used in more than half of online grooming cases

Facebook, or apps owned by Facebook, were used in four online grooming offences in Derbyshire in just nine months, new figures show.

In the first nine months of a new offence of Sexual Communication with a Child, there were 1,628 crimes recorded in England and Wales, with police revealing what platform was used in 956 cases.

And Facebook and apps owned by Facebook - Instagram and Whatsapp - were used in 52 per cent of those cases, with Facebook being the most-recorded site overall, an investigation by the NSPCC has found.

In Derbyshire, police recorded 20 offences, with four involving the social media giant and its affiliated apps, with the youngest victim aged just nine.

Figures from Freedom of Information Act requests to police forces across England and Wales show the shocking number of cases where groomers used Facebook, and apps owned by Facebook. The youngest victim recorded was just two years old.

Where the method of communication used by predators was logged by police:

* Facebook was used in a third (32.6 per cent) of cases

* Facebook owned apps Instagram and Whatsapp were used in nearly a fifth (19.8 per cent) of cases

* The second most-used app was Snapchat - 176 cases

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has heralded the end of the Wild West Web, and the NSPCC is urging him to follow through by bringing in a regulator to force social networks to keep children safe.

At present DCMS has plans to introduce a voluntary code for social networks, which sites could choose to adhere to, or ignore. For the past 10 years social networks have been allowed to self-regulate, and yet they have consistently failed to take the necessary action needed to keep children safe, the NSPCC said.

The charity is now calling on Mr Hancock to go further than this and bring in a mandatory code to regulate social networks so that grooming can be prevented, rather than relying on police to intervene after harm has already been done.

As part of its #WildWestWeb campaign the NSPCC is calling for Mr Hancock to bring in:

1. An independent regulator for social networks with fining powers.

2. A mandatory code which introduces Safe Accounts for children; grooming alerts using algorithms; and fast-tracking of reports to moderators which relate to child safety.

3. Mandatory transparency reports forcing social networks to disclose how many safety reports they get, and how they deal with those reports.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has a golden opportunity to put an end to the Wild West Web and force social networks to protect children online.

“Facebook has shown it is happy to use data for commercial purposes, but has failed to harness data in a way that can be used to prevent grooming.

“Facebook should be leading the way, but instead it has demonstrated time and again that self-regulation isn’t working and social networks can’t be left to mark their own homework.

“Mr Hancock could be the person who makes the internet a safer place, for every child now and in the future. We hope he seizes the chance to do that.”