Data compiled by the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found that in the past 18 months, over half of child grooming incidents in England and Wales where the communication method was known involved a Facebook-owned platform.
The data is far from perfect. It was compiled from responses to freedom of information requests sent to over 40 police forces in the UK. Of the 5,161 reported crimes, police disclosed the communication methods used in just over 3,400 of cases.
Those numbers, however, paint a grim picture. Around 1,900 of those cases reportedly involved Facebook, Facebook Messenger, or the Facebook-owned photo-sharing and chat apps Instagram and WhatsApp. By comparison, only around 100 incidents were connected with face-to-face conversations. Instagram in particular saw a dramatic increase, with Instagram-connected cases more than tripling during similar spans of time in 2017 and 2018.
The NSPCC says incidents overall also increased almost 50 percent during these two time periods. That may be partially due to policing trends: The UK only officially criminalized intentional sexual communication with a minor in April of 2017, right around when the data for this report begins.
It’s sadly not all that surprising, owing to their vast popularity, that Facebook has captured much of the market on child grooming incidents in the UK—although surely that’s an achievement the company would rather not have. Snapchat, with around 18 percent of the reported total, is the only other platform that comes close to the same share of offenses. Despite eating record fines from the FTC this week for illegally collecting data on minors and potentially facilitating similarly untoward online contact between adults and minors, Musical.ly (now known as TikTok) ranked fairly low in NSPCC’s report, with less than 1 percent of cases involving the platform.
“Keeping young people safe on our platforms is our top priority and child exploitation of any kind is not allowed,” a spokesperson for Facebook and Instagram told Gizmodo in a written statement, “We use advanced technology and work closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to aggressively fight this type of content and protect young people.”