The internet has transformed our lives in many positive ways, however, it has also flung open the doors of opportunity for those involved in child abuse, grooming, and trafficking. People are regularly accused, sometimes falsely, of viewing, distributing, and/or facilitating indecent images of children on social media platforms, including Kik, TikTok, Snapchat, and Telegram. If this has happened to you, you must talk to an experienced criminal defence solicitor immediately.
The problem of indecent images being placed on websites and social media is increasing year on year. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) reported in early August that almost 20,000 web pages of child abuse imagery in 2022 included ‘self-generated’ content of children aged between seven and ten years old. When compared to the first half of 2020, this amounts to a 360% increase. IWF CEO, Susie Hargreaves OBE stated that the children were often “coerced, tricked or pressured by sexual abusers on the internet”.
How bad is the problem of indecent images on social media platforms?
Governments around the world are attempting to bring social media companies into line, demanding they identify and prevent sexual predators and indecent images. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security is investigating how TikTok handles child sexual abuse material.
“It [TikTok] is a perfect place for predators to meet, groom and engage children,” Erin Burke, unit chief of the child exploitation investigations unit at Homeland Security’s cybercrime division, told the Financial Times, adding it the “platform of choice” for the behaviour.
TikTok is not the only social media provider feeling the heat, Snapchat is also under scrutiny.
Do platforms that provide self-destructing messages increase the risk to children?
In 2019, the Sunday Times ran an in-depth report on the extent of child exploitation on Snapchat since its inception in 2014. Examples of abuse included an 11-year-old boy exchanging “sexual images” with an 11-year-old girl via Snapchat, before distributing the photographs to his friends and the alleged rape of two 13 year old girls by two men who first messaged them on the app.
Snapchat messages ‘self-destruct’ after around 10 seconds of being viewed on screen making it difficult for prosecutors and criminal defence solicitors to collect evidence.
Kik and Telegram have also been accused of not tackling the posting of indecent images. Kik, an instant messaging mobile application, does not employ end-to-end encryption and a small number of people can and do trade indecent images and videos through the app. Telegram, which gained millions of users after WhatsApp changed its privacy terms in 2021, boasts a light touch when it comes to censoring content. This has led to people who have been banned from other platforms migrating to Telegram.
In 2018, Apple briefly banned Telegram from its app store because of users sharing images of child abuse. The app was returned to the app store just a few hours after Telegram took tough action against the users who posted the “horrible content” and banned them from the secure messaging service.
Telegram, like Snapchat, deletes messages sent through a secret chat function shortly after they are opened. The app does not have a dedicated policy to tackle the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, but its terms of service make users agree “not to post illegal pornographic content on publicly viewable Telegram channels, bots, etc”. There is also an in-app reporting channel users can access to report pornography, however, when the BBC reported 100 images of pornography using the in-app function, 96 remained accessible one month later.
Final Words on Indecent Images on Social Media
In terms of obtaining indecent images the Police can have real difficulties with such platforms, unavailable images often work in the suspect favour. It is extremely difficult for the prosecution to prove that indecent images were traded or viewed if they cannot be accessed.
The internet remains the wild west in terms of regulation and the continuous fast-paced development driven by technology companies and the ponderousness of world governments means this is unlikely to change any time soon.
If you are being accused of trading or viewing indecent images on social media, our criminal defence solicitors can help.
Reeds Solicitors is an award winning and leading top-tier criminal defence firm. For legal advice and representation, please contact us through our contact page here. Alternatively you can phone 0333 240 7373, or email us at email@example.com.
If you are a child and have been personally affected by this article you can contact Childline 24 hours a day on 0800 1111. Adults concerned about a child can call the free NSPCC helpline on 0800 800 500 or contact the police.