Date: March 24, 2020
“Britain’s leading online child abuse watchdog has warned it is being inundated with “false reports” including animal cruelty and family holiday snaps that are hindering its work.
The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) said the deluge of inappropriate and invalid reports from the public is preventing and delaying it from tracking down and removing material that genuinely shows child abuse and potential criminal activity.
Almost three quarters of the 106,830 reports it received from the public last year were false, which cost it £150,500 and was equivalent to losing four years of a single analyst’s time.
Invalid reports ranged from adult porn to innocent pictures of child models and family holiday snaps – none of which were deemed to be breaking any laws.
One individual had made 8,300 false reports since June 2019 despite being “repeatedly informed” the nature of the reports was not the charity’s responsibility. They related largely to innocuous pictures on Instagram.
Susie Hargreaves, IWF’s chief executive, said: “Our analysts still have to look carefully at material to make sure there is nothing criminal hidden in there and, if people are reporting inappropriate things to us, it takes up a lot of their time.
“This is time they could be spending finding and eradicating child sexual abuse material from the internet.
“We can prepare them for seeing images of children being sexually abused, but it’s harder to prepare for the unknown and unexpected, such as beheadings, or animal cruelty. It can have a real impact on our analysts.”
One of the IWF’s 14 analysts who spoke under condition of anonymity, also warned there were people acting as vigilantes deliberately searching out online child abuse who were putting themselves at risk of prosecution.
He said: “If they are caught actively searching for this, they will have no more of a defence than someone that’s doing it because they want to find it for their own gratification. It is not a defence in court going looking for this.”