Record amount of online child abuse blocked, safety group says

More online child sexual abuse material is being blocked by tech firms than ever before, The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has said.

The online safety group helps platforms find and take down web pages and addresses housing child abuse content.

It says that its current watch list of URLs containing abuse imagery stands at 24,649 – more than have ever been included before – and says the average number appearing on the list in 2022 is nearly double what it was in 2021.

The IWF said while the figures were a testament to the work it was doing to find and remove more abusive content, it showed that new online safety laws cannot be delayed any longer.

The UK’s Online Safety Bill has been delayed multiple times and is still waiting to return to Parliament.

IWF chief executive Susie Hargreaves 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.”

The IWF’s URL List is updated twice a day and is used by firms to block access to the webpages, which have been confirmed by the IWF to contain images and videos of child sexual abuse.

The group said the rise in web pages being listed suggests that they are not being removed as quickly as they should be.

“We have never had as many URLs on our list,” Ms Hargreaves said.

“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.

“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.”

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