Nearly half of child abuse reported online is now self-generated, official investigators have revealed.
A record 68,000 reports to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) were tagged as including "self-generated" child sexual abuse content – a 77 per cent increase on the 2019 total of 38,400.
These accounted for 44 per cent of the total 132,700 reports to the IWF last year, each of which can contain between one and thousands of child sexual abuse images and videos. This was a 16 per cent increase on 2019, and equates to millions of images and videos.
Susie Hargreaves, the IWF chief executive, said the figures showed children were at greater risk of being approached or groomed by strangers online than ever before.
She said: "What was already a recognised phenomenon has now cemented into a grave and widespread threat to our children. This year, our analysts have warned there are whole online communities of sexual predators who devote themselves to finding and tracking down children on the internet, so as to bully and coerce them into abusing themselves sexually.
"These criminals can now groom a child who is in the apparent safety of their own bedroom into making videos of the most serious kinds of abuse."
The Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the rise in self-generated imagery was "deeply concerning", adding: "Posting and sharing such images poses psychological harm to children, including feelings of distress and embarrassment."
MPs are so concerned that they have launched an urgent inquiry into the rise in self-generated child abuse images. The all-party parliamentary group on social media will investigate the causes behind this phenomenon and recommend ways to combat it and protect children.
The IWF received a total of 299,600 reports of suspected online child abuse in the past year, the highest on record and 15 per cent up on the 2019 total of 260,400. Of these, 153,350 were confirmed as containing images and/or videos of children being sexually abused.