Online & Social Media Environments

Professor Emma Bond is Director of Research at the University of Suffolk. She is Professor of Socio-Technical Research and also Director of the Suffolk Institute of Social and Economic Research (SISER).  

Katie Tyrrell joined the University of Suffolk in 2017 after graduating with an MSc in Mental Health Research with distinction from the University of Nottingham. Katie is a member of the Suffolk Institute of Social and Economic Research (SISER).

 online safety, social media, students

Whilst this is not a topic students may want to think about, the University of Suffolk is supporting a recent government campaign to raise awareness that taking, making, sharing and possessing indecent images and pseudo-photographs of people under 18 is illegal. 

It is important to remember that young people know the law and understand that looking at indecent images of under 18s is illegal regardless of how old they look; these images are of real children and young people, and viewing them causes further harm. If you come across indecent images of children under 18 online, you should report them to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) so that they can be safely removed. The law is very clear about this and if you are caught looking at sexual images of under 18s, you could be arrested, prosecuted and placed on the sex offenders register.

This was one of the key messages from Fred Langford, Deputy CEO of the IWF, who spoke to students, staff and multi-agency practitioners at the University of Suffolk on 21st March. The IWF is an international hotline for reporting and removing online criminal child sexual abuse images and videos and they provide an online service to securely and anonymously report such content. The IWF work to minimise the availability of online child sexual abuse content hosted anywhere in the world. 

The IWF is a not-for-profit organisation and is supported by the global internet industry and the European Commission. By working internationally to make the internet a safer place, the IWF helps victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse. In his talk, Fred discussed how important it is for people to report such content as often they may come across it online, don’t know that they should report it and then just close their browser. 

Reporting to the IWF is vitally important as the children in these images are real victims who are victimised every time an image is viewed. Fred explained that the majority of images reported to or found by the IWF are of girls aged ten and younger and two per cent of these are of children under the age of two. 

Using a unique algorithm like a digital fingerprint to identity an image, the IWF is able to seek out images and remove them from the internet thus, if content is reported anonymously to the IWF, it can still be safely removed. Each week, they assess and remove more than 1,000 webpages worldwide and each webpage may contain thousands of images. In the last 20 years the IWF have assessed 700,000 reports. Of these, 281,781 depicted child sexual abuse. Content hosted in the UK is removed quickly – usually in less than two hours and as a direct result of their work, child sexual abuse content hosted in the UK has reduced from 18% in 1996 to below 1% today.

The IWF is currently working with the Home Office and other partner organisations including the Marie Collins Foundation and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) to ensure young people know the law. The message of the campaign is clear: 

Sexual images or videos of under 18s are illegal. It doesn’t matter how old the person looks, this is the law. No ifs, no buts.

You can be prosecuted for taking, making, sharing and possessing sexual images of under 18s, even if you thought that they looked older.

The University of Suffolk has been supporting the No if’s, no buts campaign by raising students’ awareness of the law and how to report indecent images. Fred said: “I applaud Suffolk University for taking the initiative and inviting the IWF to present to students and staff about the work we do.  The fact Suffolk University are willing to lead the way in discussing topics such as child sexual abuse material in an open manner is testament to their blossoming reputation for discussing difficult subject matters.”

Josh, a final year student at the University of Suffolk attended the event and said “I think a lot of young men don’t realise the implications of having an indecent image and as a consequence they may shrug it off or normalise it. This event really highlighted the importance of thinking critically about images, and it is great that the university is raising awareness of this topic.” 

For further information visit https://stoponlinechildsexualabuse.campaign.gov.uk