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Statement: On the ‘Impact of Social Media and Screen-Use on Young People’s Health’ report by the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons

Statement

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) welcomes today’s report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and the attention it draws to the impact of online harms on children and young people. Our CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE was pleased to appear before the inquiry last year to help inform its deliberations.

The IWF also welcomes the Committee’s focus on addressing issues related to child sexual exploitation online. Its recommendations echo our charitable objective of achieving an internet free from child sexual abuse material. However, the committee should be careful not to conflate the distinct issues of counter-terrorism and child sexual abuse content online. Much progress has been made in the counter-terrorism area because it is easier for Artificial Intelligence to identify imagery related to terrorism than it is to establish whether a child is 17 or 18. With no AI that can deliver 100% accuracy in the child sexual abuse imagery area, we use a mixture of human moderation and leading-edge technology to help fight the spread of this material online. We agree that there is much more that tech companies, Government and law enforcement can do to prevent the spread of this material and we stand ready to assist them.

The report makes sensible recommendations for the future regulatory environment: it should be principles-based, future-proof, and safeguard children and young people online. Any regulation that is being considered by the Government should seek to build on the good existing work that is already taking place. In the past year our dedicated team of 13 analysts processed 230,000 reports and removed 105,047 unique webpages which can contain hundreds and often thousands of individual images related to child sexual abuse. Our partnership of sophisticated technology and human content analysts has enabled us to identify more actionable content than ever before.

Self-generated imagery is on the rise. In the last six months of 2018, one in four (27%) reports verified as being child sexual abuse material were also assessed as being self-generated. Appropriate education and support networks are necessary and we welcome the emphasis that the committee has put on the particular importance of teaching this age range to recognise the risks involved when engaging online.

We are working with the Government to help inform the Online Harms White Paper and agree with the Committee that this offers the chance to create a world-leading regulatory framework. For twenty-two years, the IWF has led the way in disrupting the supply of child sexual abuse material online. When we were founded in 1996, 18% of the world’s known child sexual abuse material was hosted in the UK; today it is less than 1% and in the rare cases such content is traced to the UK, it is usually removed in under two hours.

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