The number of offences for sharing obscene imagery rose by 12 per cent in the year to June 2020 to 7279 from 6485 in the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.
Simon Bailey, the National Police Chief Council’s lead for child protection, said around 40 per cent of all new indecent imagery was now self-generated, compared to 29 per cent last year.
“Some of that will be through abusive and coercive relationships but a significant amount will be as a result of young people or children sharing sexualised images of themselves which is really worrying,” said Mr Bailey
“I am very concerned about the statistics I am starting to see that highlight the increase in grooming offences taking place.”
He said the Covid crisis had created the perfect storm where more children had spent time online. “Offenders have exploited that,” he said.
“It has been exacerbated by the fact the social media providers and tech firms have relied on AI to remove indecent images of children. They now concede their AI is not as good as their human moderators (who have been shielding at home in Covid).
“When human moderators return to work, the police service will have to deal with a significant spike in the number of referrals it will receive as a result of the reliance on AI.”
Asked whether social media firms had done enough to combat online child abuse, he said some had improved but “so much needs to be done. Until they do an awful lot more, we are going to be dealing with year on year increases.”
NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless said: “The rise in offences during lockdown is concerning but was sadly foreseeable. Behind many of these images are children groomed by offenders who take advantage of badly designed social media platforms.
“The Government has the opportunity to help prevent these images being created in the first place with its Online Harms Bill that will place a Duty of Care on tech companies to those who use their sites. “If this is to work, it needs to be enforced with the threat of substantial financial and criminal sanctions for companies and managers who continue to fail children.”