Record amount of online child sexual abuse blocked as landmark Bill faces delays

Published:  Thu 10 Nov 2022

‘For a while, we led the world with the vision for our online regulation. But now we are falling behind.’

More child sexual abuse material is being blocked than ever before by tech companies, with warnings that new online safety laws must not be held up any further.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is currently helping companies block a record number of web addresses which it has confirmed lead to confirmed images and videos of child sexual abuse.

There are currently 24,649 URLs on the IWF’s URL List – more than have ever been included before.  Each URL can contain from one to thousands of images of children, sometimes as young as babies, being raped and tortured.

This is considerably more URLs than are usually included on the list. In 2021, the list contained an average of 5,526 URLs. So far in 2022, the average number of URLs on the list is 10,255.

The dynamic URL List, which is updated twice a day, is list of webpages the IWF has confirmed contain images and videos of child sexual abuse.

All IWF Members can use this list to block access to these criminal webpages and importantly, stop the children in the images being revictimised every time an abuser tries to find them

The URLs on the list are blocked from being accessed until they can be safely removed from the internet. The IWF works with tech companies, hotlines around the world and law enforcement where appropriate, to have illegal content removed quickly.

Once criminal content has been removed from the internet, the URL will be removed from the list.

Blocking the webpages prevents criminals from profiting from the sharing of child sexual abuse material – and also stops ordinary internet users from accidentally stumbling across criminal material which can be very traumatic to see.

In some cases, entire sites are listed for blocking as they are dedicated to child sexual abuse imagery.

The rise in URLs on the list indicates material which has already been flagged by IWF analysts as criminal and is not being removed as quickly as it should at the source, meaning platforms are having to block access for longer.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF, said: “We have never had as many URLs on our list. It is testament to the hard work and diligence of our hotline analysts – but a reminder that there is so much of this material out there.

“Platforms are working hard to minimise the availability of child sexual abuse material online, and our URL List is proving a vital tool in the battle to defend both survivors of abuse, children and all internet users online.

Susie Hargreaves OBE CEO
Susie Hargreaves OBE, IWF CEO

“The children in these videos and images are real children. They are being subjected to sexual abuse and rape – and their suffering is real. Stopping access to this material is vital in preventing this content from being available online.”

The increased number of URLs on the IWF’s list comes as the UK Government’s flagship Online Safety Bill suffers further delays in Parliament. The legislation had been due to return to the Commons on November 2, but has been dropped, with no date yet set for its return.

Ms Hargreaves said it is important for the Bill to return to Parliament as soon as possible.

She said: “This legislation was supposed to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online. That was the intention. For a while, we led the world with the vision for our online regulation.

“But now we are falling behind. It is imperative we do not lose focus here. No one should forget the victims here are children, and they need protection now. They must not be made to wait.

“If this legislation does not get back on track soon, there is a real danger Parliamentary time will run out. The internet is not always safe for everyone, and we do need Government now to make sure passing this legislation is kept a priority.”

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