THE BLOG

It's About Creating a Virtuous Circle. The UK Is in One But the Public Just Doesn't Know It

21/03/2013 15:41 GMT | Updated 17/05/2013 10:12 BST

Throughout 2012 we were frequently delighted by the response from UK internet hosting companies and Internet Service Providers when we notified them of child sexual abuse content on their networks.

Most were quick to react and removed the images and videos in record times. The first time we did this in 2012, the content was gone in five minutes - while we were on the phone telling them about it.

That set the bar for the rest of the year. Other occasions took 20 minutes. On one occasion, however, it took four days. That's a point I'll come back to.

It would be easy to reflect on the quick removal times and say "well that's because the UK only saw child sexual abuse content hosted there 73 times last year."

Well, yes. And so the virtuous circle is gathering pace. For 10 years now less than 1% of all the child sexual abuse images and videos we've seen have been hosted in the UK which is great. It used to be 18%.

Those 73 webpages were removed with 35 separate notices - often because there will be multiple webpages hosting child sexual abuse content with the same hosting provider at the same time.

This means that we are not constantly overwhelmed with trying to get content removed from our own shores.

What the public thinks

These successes are great but we're just not yet good enough at telling people.

ComRes polled over 2,000 UK adults on our behalf and it told us that the vast majority of people in Britain think that child sexual abuse content (91%) and computer generated images or cartoons of child sexual abuse (85%) should be removed from the internet. In fact, they were more concerned about this than terrorist websites. Suicide websites and eating disorder websites fell much further down the list.

Pleasingly, very few people have stumbled upon child sexual abuse content online - 4% of men and 2% of women, which tallies with what we already thought.

We need people to know where to report this content, if they are one of the rare ones to see it, but also we need them to feel reassured that in the UK we're effective at removing it.

International cooperation

The place for us to focus more of our efforts is on the international dimension. If these images and videos, which mostly show children aged 10 and under being sexually abused, most often raped or sexually tortured, aren't hosted in the UK, what can we do about that?

Well, we build strong partnerships with our colleagues working in Hotlines around the globe. We contact them when content hosted in their country isn't removed as quickly as we would like. There are often many reasons which contribute to this, which includes police investigations and differences in the laws and processes and different countries.

We aim to get companies into IWF membership. We focus on those which are based outside of the UK and which would benefit from receiving alerts at the same time we are aware of potentially criminal content on their networks. This would enable them to take action quicker.

We're also launching IWF International. This will enable countries without a body for tackling online child sexual abuse content to use IWF expertise and services. It's our aim to deliver this to countries whose internet infrastructure is growing and whose population would benefit from a body to take reports of this type of content.

Now back to the one occasion in 2012 where it took four days to remove potentially criminal child sexual abuse content in the UK. That was too long. That company is also not a Member of IWF.

Interestingly, we have found that companies who aren't Members, and who are found to be hosting this sort of content in the UK are actually slower to remove it and are abused by criminals for hosting this content more than IWF Members. Therefore it's a challenge to us to bring them into the IWF fold.

The ComRes poll told us that our mission is correct; 96% of Britons support the removal of criminal content from the internet. All we can do is continue getting better at it, do more, work faster and as the poll shows, actually tell people about it.