Webwatch: Record number of images showing child abuse removed by internet charity

More than 100,000 webpages showing images of child sexual abuse have been removed from the internet after intervention by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the UK charity has said.

In total, 105,047 webpages were removed in 2018, up by a third on the previous year, with almost half of those flagged by the IWF displaying the sexual abuse of children aged 10 or younger, according to new figures from the charity.

IWF chief executive Susie Hargreaves described it as “shocking and deeply upsetting” that the images had been created.

In response to the figures, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he wanted internet companies to do more to improve online safety.

“The horrifying amount of online child sexual abuse material removed by the IWF shows the true scale of the vile threat we are facing. This is why I have made tackling it one of my personal missions,” he said.

“I welcome this impressive work and have been encouraged by the progress being made by the tech companies in the fight against online predators. But I want the web giants to do more to make their platforms safe.”

Ms Hargreaves said much of the content had originated outside the UK, and that analysing the images had been challenging for the charity’s workers.

“These 105,047 webpages each contained up to thousands of images and videos showing the sexual abuse of children. It amounted to millions of horrific images,” she said.

“Virtually all – more than 99% – were hosted outside of the UK. Whilst we use sophisticated and cutting-edge technology in our work, ultimately, every webpage was assessed by human eyes.

“Watching the repeated abuse of children, some of whom are very young, is a difficult job but we have an amazing team of compassionate, resilient and highly-trained internet content analysts. They work to give hope to the victims of sexual abuse whose images are shared online repeatedly.”

According to the IWF’s figures, 49% of the webpages assessed by the charity came from website URLs linked to the Netherlands, with the United States and Russia the next most common countries of origin on the list at 13% and 12% respectively.

“We work with more than 140 internet companies to keep their networks safe but it’s a sad fact that the vast majority of these webpages – four out of five – were hosted by image-hosting companies based overseas, who do not want to engage, and frankly have little regard to providing safe networks, or relieving the suffering of child victims,” Ms Hargreaves said.

“It is shocking and deeply upsetting that these images should have been created in the first place. We have set ourselves an ambitious programme of work for 2019. By getting better at finding, and combatting this material, we offer real hope to the victims whose images are shared online.”

The IWF said it will publish its full annual report, detailing full statistics and trend analysis for 2018, in April.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Internet Watch Foundation.