A UK charity is urging Facebook to disclose its internal research on child abuse incidents, after it discovered that police in the UK recorded 5,120 child grooming crimes on Facebook-owned apps since 2017. According to the research, which was published by children’s charity the NSPCC on Monday, 53% of all online grooming crimes took place on Facebook platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp, amounting to 24 incidents per week.
The NSPCC obtained the figures through freedom of information requests to police forces across England and Wales regarding Sexual Communication with a Child offenses, which have been defined by law in the UK since 2017. Due to the number of grooming crimes that go unreported, the charity said in a press release it believes the figures are “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Facebook has perhaps never been under more scrutiny than at this time. On the same day the NSPCC published its research, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen was due to give evidence to a UK parliamentary committee analyzing the country’s incoming Online Safety Bill.
The Online Safety Bill, previously known as the Online Harms Bill, is a key piece of legislation that would place UK media watchdog Ofcom in charge of regulating social media platforms in the name of keeping users safe. Ofcom would have the power to fine tech companies £18 million ($25.3 million) or 10% of their annual revenue, whichever is higher, if they fail to remove harmful or illegal content, as well as to block sites and services. Senior managers at tech companies could even face criminal charges if those companies consistently fall short of their obligations.
The publication of the research also coincided with multiple reports on a cache of leaked internal documents from the company known as the.
Facebook’s ubiquity and the popularity of its various platforms means that it can’t avoid being drawn into discussions of the misuse of digital platforms. Last week, the NSPCC and almost 60 other global child protection organizations wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to publish internal research about how abusers may be using the company’s platforms to harm children.
“Instead of scribbling defensive blogs and setting their PR machine on journalists, Nick Clegg and Mark Zuckerberg must now publish all their research into how their platforms contribute to harm and sexual abuse and step up their efforts to fix their sites so they are safe for children,” said NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless in a statement.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.