London – Children in Britain who see nude photos or videos of themselves online or are concerned about such content being uploaded can report it using a first-of-its-kind tool launched yesterday.
Under-18s can use the service – from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and Childline – to flag images online for removal or prevent the material from being uploaded to the internet in the first place, according to the charity IWF.
Sexual images of children often end up being shared without their consent, and activists have raised concerns about a rise in digital harassment and abuse – especially towards girls – as people spend more time online during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Once those images are out there, it can be an incredibly lonely place for victims, and it can seem hopeless,” IWF’s chief executive, Susie Hargreaves, said in a statement.
“This tool is a world first,” she added. “It will give young people the power, and the confidence, to reclaim these images and make sure they do not fall into the wrong hands online.”
Children using the new service can report nude photos or videos of themselves that have appeared online for review by the IWF, which works to remove the material if it breaks the law.
The tool also allows children to flag images that they fear might be uploaded in the future. The IWF said a unique digital fingerprint – known as a hash – for the photo or video would be shared with tech firms to stop the content being posted online.
The number of nude images taken by children themselves and circulating online is rising, the IWF said. About 38,000 self-generated images were reported in the first three months of 2021 – up from 17,500 in the same period last year – the group found.
Such content appears online for various reasons, according to the charity. A young person may send a photo to a boyfriend or girlfriend who shares the material without their consent, or they could be a victim of online grooming or blackmail.
This can have a devastating impact on the wellbeing of young people, and may lead to embarrassment, self-loathing and even self-harm, according to Britain’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), which runs Childline.
“The impact of having a nude image shared on the internet cannot be underestimated,” Cormac Nolan, who heads the NSPCC’s Childline online counselling service, said in a statement.
“It can leave (young people) feeling extremely worried and unsure on what to do or who to turn to for support,” he added. — Reuters