Shropshire Star comment: Law has to be used on tech firms

By Toby Neal | Opinions | Published:

For the sex-groomers of children, the internet is a wonderful invention.

It allows them to ensnare children from behind false identities, and if it doesn’t work with one, there are plenty of other potential victims to prey on.

For a long while those who provide the vehicle for the abuse have acted as if it is nothing to do with them. They are just a platform, they argue.

It has been a fight to get tech firms to accept they have responsibilities for what is carried on internet sites and services. New figures provide no encouragement to the hope that the war against the online sex-groomers is being won. Alas, the reverse is true.

While the offence of sexual communication with a child is a new one dating from April 2017, even within the relatively short time it has been operative a general picture has emerged pointing to things getting worse.

West Mercia Police handled 122 offences in the year to April 2019. In the previous year there were 73.

In the West Midlands force area the number of offences more than doubled, from 25 to 62. Staffordshire was a relatively bright spot, with offences dipping, but nationally there has been a very considerable increase.

The various social media apps which are so popular with children are also a playground for adults with sinister and malign motives. It goes without saying that youngsters should be made aware of the dangers, but it also goes without saying that the groomers are determined, and full of clever tricks to try to gain the confidence of their targets.

It is a shame that something that is such a boon in some ways is also the cause of such misery. In the past very nasty people had limited opportunities. Going online gives them an outlet for malice under the cover of anonymity. The internet really does bring out the worst in some people.

There has been a philosophy that the internet should be a free space, unshackled by laws, rules, and government interference. That idealistic spirit cannot survive the reality of what is happening. When there are no controls, things soon get out of control.

It falls then to the technology firms to tighten up their act, and if they fail to do so and respond with a collective shrug, there will need to be new regulations to get them to take things more seriously.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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