Safer Internet Day Is A Smokescreen: A Jim Gamble Blog

Safer Internet Day Is A Smokescreen: A Jim Gamble Blog

Posted: February 15, 2018 | Jim Gamble QPM

sidblogHow have government invested in the resources that keep us all safe? The answer is they simply haven’t.

Batten down the hatches for the white noise that is Safer Internet Day 2018, and the smokescreen of a challenge to industry that hides this government’s failure to invest in our collective online safety.

The fact is it’s easy to attack the all-encompassing internet industry. When it wasn’t easy, ie in the beginning, many people simply didn’t challenge what was a new, venture capital-funded, and fledgling group of startups. The seduction of the technology itself was exciting and the complexities and unintended consequences too much for many to contemplate, let alone understand.

The irony is that it’s now populist to turn on the internet companies, even those like Facebook who have made significant improvements.

What’s wrong online is driven by the behaviour of people and, when it comes to bad behaviour, people never fail to disappoint.

Moderating behaviour is a responsibility of government – they have the authority and in fact a duty to keep us ‘all’ (and the public spaces we occupy, including those created by industry) safe.

This is something they’ve simply failed to do. The government would rather throw insults at the online industry and confusing statistics at the public than get their own act together.

We are told that in the last few years there’s been a 700% increase in reports (the majority of which actually come from industry) of potentially harmful online activity in the UK.

icons8-question_shieldSo how have government invested in the resources that keep us all safe; beyond ‘cheap’ rhetoric? The answer is they simply haven’t.

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Jim Gamble, Home Affairs Committee. 12th October 2010

When I gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2010, CEOP had a budget of £12.5million. When I gave evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) this year CEOP was receiving £14.5million; £10million of which comes from the seemingly elastic ‘WePROTECT’ money.

Safeguarding children is led by two key principles; the application of professional curiosity and respectful challenge. We must ask this government the difficult questions and challenge them to lead by example.

The most frustrating fact however, is that no-one is actually challenging them on their level of real investment. Not even the army of so-called internet safety experts. From the big children’s charities to the one man or woman bands, being popular with government (or at least not at odds with them) is the easy option. It’s the new cop-out.

icons8-welfareThere is so much the government could do beyond demonising industry. They could start by simply taxing or licensing internet companies to fund the education, social care and policing resources needed to make our online lives safer.

If ultimately they cannot stomach a new tax or opening the public purse, they must at the very least open their closed minds, step outside their current comfort zone and actively consider creative new approaches like vetted and trained volunteer digital detectives.

The internet is integrated into every aspect of our lives, so continuing to treat it as novel is part of the problem. On the day we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote it might have been wise to have focused Safer Internet Day on the continuing struggle for equality; critically the part the online world plays when it comes to the bullying and harassment of women. That however would have required some thought and planning, not the simple default to the same old, same old.

I won’t hold my breath. In fact I doubt anything will actually be heard in the mishmash of messages, strap-lines, hashtags, sound bites and press releases that Safer Internet Day has become.

You’ve probably tuned out already.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost UK on February 6th 2018.

Vigilante Hunters aren’t the solution; Digital Detectives are

Posted: January 15, 2018 | Jim Gamble QPM

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The fact of the matter is, unregulated Paedophile Hunters aren’t going away.  

In reality, their numbers are increasing and their activity is more frequent; often encouraging reckless actions by others. The irony is, we’ve now come to a point where some of them are asking the government to issue guidance on preventing less scrupulous, or over enthusiastic Hunters from going too far; doing the wrong thing.

Ultimately, keeping our children safe is the emotive issue.  Every parent, carer, brother, sister or friend is horrified when they hear a child has been groomed.  When they hear the news, they feel terrified to their core at the thought that it could ever happen to one of their loved ones.  So, it’s little wonder that many people are happy to adopt the ‘end justifies the means philosophy’.  

However, this attitude simply acknowledges that collateral damage is acceptable; that their bull-in-a-china-shop approach is now ruining the reputations of, and causing harm to innocent people. 

The root of the problem starts with the fact that too few police resources are dedicated to this vital area of work.  Contrary to views recently expressed, it’s not a training issue; the few police officers who do this work are actually amongst the best in the world. There simply aren’t enough of them.
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The toxic narrative that the police don’t care simply is not true.

The blaming of law enforcement’s inability to engage and deter predators online creates the perfect storm; exploited by some well-intentioned individuals, as well as a few others. They are the self-promoting, self-serving, egotistical live streamers, who take matters into their own hands and out of the hands of justice.  No matter what they say, the greater good is not achieved by naming and shaming the wrong person, or by providing the excuse for others to adopt the role of judge, jury and executioner. 

If the vigilante phenomenon has taught us one thing, it’s that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to catch a predator.  Ordinary people can make a real difference.  

So, let’s take a hard look at the facts; The Chief Constable of Norfolk, Simon Bailey, set out the scale of the problem last year when said that 100,000 UK IP addresses are downloading indecent images of someone’s child every single day and there could be 20,000 predators online right now seeking to groom our children.  We are also told that nationally about 400 arrests are made for offences related to this abuse every month.  How do these numbers stack up? They don’t.

That said, it is clear to everyone that the police need to be empowered to do more.  They need support; greater access to resources, real investment from government and critically, an open mind to the possibilities that can be found in ethical and appropriate partnerships with the public. 

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The answer does not lie with unregulated cowboys lynching people online or via live streaming at the point of confrontation.  The answer must begin and remain within the law. 

Therefore, we could start by creating an offence of Masquerading, i.e. Make it a criminal offence for anyone above the age of 18 to engage online with someone they know, or believe to be, under the age of 18, unless they can show they had lawful authority or reasonable excuse. 

This isn’t unreasonable – where else would it be okay for a 50 year-old-man to pretend to be a teenage girl?

This approach of regulation would make it easy to stop predators engaging in this way and actually inhibit paedophile hunters themselves.  Critically, it would also open the door for police forces to recruit and authorise special constables.  Special constables are not a new phenomenon; they have existed in England and Wales since the 60’s and comprise of citizen volunteers who are recruited, vetted, trained and supervised by local police forces.  They wear a uniform and patrol real streets.

Why shouldn’t these public spirited, vetted volunteers be deployed on our virtual highways?

 

This article originally appeared in the Daily Mirror on Saturday 13th January 2018.

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Vigilante Paedophile Hunters Are Not The Answer

Posted: September 20, 2017 | Jim Gamble QPM

When it comes to paedophile activity in online spaces, the only thing that tends to change is that their numbers continue to increase. I believe that one of the contributing factors to this is the lack of real deterrence; too few police officers to deal with the tidal wave of online offending.

There is no doubt in my mind that the growth in unregulated or ‘vigilante’ activity is in no small measure, down to the frustration many people feel when they see our children harmed, and so few predators caught and held to account. In 2014 ‘Hunters’ accounted for 11% of the cases successfully prosecuted at court. Last year that number rose to 44%. Proof, if it were needed, that you do not need to be a police officer to make a difference. infogfx2

The really shocking figure from the BBC Freedom of Information (FOI) request however, is found in the total number of convictions for grooming a child to meet for sex.  According to the FOI the police and Paedophile Hunters combined achieved only 259 convictions.

Some may attempt to defend that number by including the work against offenders who download images, but that is investigated in a different way. In my opinion the only legitimate comparison between these crime types is the equally disappointing number of offenders caught in each category. The Chief Constable of Norfolk Simon Bailey set out the scale of the problem last year when he told us that up to 100,000 UK IP addresses are downloading indecent images; of someone’s child everyday.

I am sure that vigilantes are not the answer.

Whilst most are well meaning, a few are self-serving, some may even have criminal records and are therefore unsuitable for such a role.  However, they have all shown us that you don’t need to be a police officer to catch a predator. You should however be vetted, trained and authorised to work within the criminal justice system. So what is the answer? Special Constables trained as Digital Detectives.

Special Constables, uniformed citizen volunteers walk the streets of our towns and villages every week.

Their presence deters offenders, makes people safer and critically makes them feel safer. There is absolutely no reason they cannot patrol the online spaces. These volunteer citizens can be trained to seek out these abusers, to identify, locate and lure them to a place where the police arrest them.

We sometimes see the very best of people in the worst of times and communities across the UK are filled with good, in fact great, decent people. People who care enough to make a difference.
Now is the time to call up that citizen’s army; vet, train and equip them to support the police.

It is time to turn the tables. If every force recruited only 25 volunteers we could launch a credible counter offensive with over a 1,000 Special Constables operating undercover as digital detectives.  Such reinforcements would have the potential to make a real impact by delivering a real deterrent.

And here is the key, they are volunteers; they are absolutely free. So ask yourself this, can we afford to ignore this scheme?

Follow @JimGamble_INEQE

This post originally appeared as a Blog on HuffPost UK.

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What you need to know about sexting

Posted: August 16, 2017 | Jim Gamble QPM

Parents & professionals! Think before you speak

What is ‘sexting’?

Sexting is taking a sexually explicit photograph and texting quote-marks(sharing) it via your mobile phone to others. Sexually explicit content can easily be distributed between people, through the use of smartphones, the Internet and through online social networking sites.

Why is it an issue?

Recent studies claim that up to 39% of teens and 59% of young adults have sexted at least once.

NSPCC Research finds a 15% increase in counselling related to sxting.

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As children grow up they will be influenced as much, if not more, by their friends as by their parents. People in the public eye, people they look up to and people they want to be like can also have young-peoplea powerful influence on them.

It is never too early to invest in positive conversations with children and young people and it is always good to reassure them that no matter what happens they can always come to you or go to the designated safeguarding officer or their parents/guardian for help.

The Law

It is an offence to take or share an indecent image of a child under 18. young-peopleTherefore, a child who takes an image of themselves and shares it technically commits a criminal offence. Although the Police do not prosecute children who have made a simple error of judgment, the fact it may be investigated causes children to worry and could be a deterrent to them coming forward.

So please reassure them that everyone, including the police, will simply want to help them.

What are the dangers?

Images can be spread privately by text, Messenger, WhatsApp, ooVoo and a range of other apps.young-people They can be posted to social networking sites such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Most social networking sites have strict policies that prohibit nude photographs however, they are also clear in stating that they are ‘reactive’. They DO NOT proactively monitor all content that is posted on their platforms.

How do I deal with sexting?

When an image, especially a nude image is reported, navy_phone_sending_picturesocial networking sites normally will and most definitely should remove the content immediately.

The quicker an inappropriate image is reported, the easier it is for those working in the navy_alert_triangleInternet industry to take the image of their site and to do what they can to prevent or stop it spreading further.

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If you are speaking with a child who has confided in you about this issue, BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT YOU SAY, and how you say it. Telling a child or young person that once an image goes online, it stays online can remove hope and can be detrimental to a child’s health and wellbeing.

The key is EARLY reporting and EARLY intervention.

And remember sexting is not just about people children engage online, who they don’t really know, it also applies to images they have willingly shared with their boyfriend or girlfriend.

Find out about our Safeguarding in a Digital World Masterclass

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How can we tackle radicalisation?

Posted: September 10, 2016 | Jim Gamble QPM

This week (7th – 12th September) has been National ‘PREVENT’ Awareness Week – which are five days that have been dedicated to raising awareness of radicalisation and how we prevent, spot and report it.

The ‘PREVENT’ strategy is part of the UK’s wider Counter Terrorism strategy called ‘CONTEST’, which aims to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from terrorism or extremism.
Young people are proving particularly vulnerable to online radicalisation and it is a mandatory requirement that all professionals with a safeguarding responsibility receive Prevent training across local authorities.
Hundreds of Britons have gone to Syria to fight for ISIL (sometimes referred to as ISIS) since the civil war began but it would be a mistake to consider radicalisation as new. Impressionable young people have been persuaded to follow radical ideologies and pursue political aims via acts of violence for centuries. Critically, today’s terrorist groups have a new weapon in their arsenal – new communication technology. They now radicalise and recruit teenagers through extensive use of social media and the Internet. Teenagers, as young as 14, have attempted to migrate to Syria and Iraq to join ISIL and other terrorist factions.

What causes radicalisation?

Sadly, there is no easy way to identify those who will be radicalised in Britain.

In fact, as reported by the Guardian in a 2008 article, MI5’s behavioural science unit determined that there is no single pathway to extremism and that those that become terrorists are “a diverse collection of individuals fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism”.

Whilst there is no single root cause for radicalisation leading to terrorism, there are several contributing factors. Precipitant factors vary according to the individual youth’s experience and personal pathway to radicalisation. This being said, personal experiences, family support and friendship groups, as well as group dynamics are critical in triggering the actual process of radicalisation amongst youth who travel to Syria.

Ideology appears as an important and constant factor in the radicalisation process and ideological indoctrination has no doubt played a key role in turning a small minority of youth dissatisfied with existing social and political arrangements into militants. Ideology usually contributes to the approval of violence as a means to bring about political change and also can lead on to the creation of a subculture of violence.

Similarly, in a report prepared by the European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation in 2008, it found that:

• Youth who have been radicalised thrive in an enabling environment which is essentially characterised by a widely shared sense of injustice.
• Not all individuals who share the same sense of injustice or are living in the same polarised environment turn to radicalism and even less so to violence or terrorism.
• For some youths the experience of belonging to a group and being accepted by peers or leaders is of primary value, sometimes overruling most other considerations. Moreover, their backgrounds are not characterised by socio-economic problems, unemployment or dropping out of school.

How are children being targeted?
Social media has become a vital part of our daily lives and millions of young people have grown up as digital natives. Therefore it is the perfect vehicle for organisations such as ISIL to radicalise and recruit vulnerable young people.

ISIL has cultivated a false image of success online in order to charm young people. Its propaganda includes vivid imagery and compelling videos that portray the group as an exhilarating and powerful alternative to the dreary UK life many of their young targets think they live. Understandably, the propaganda does not inform young people of the atrocities the terrorist organisation commits, such as killing innocent men, women and children.

Popular social media platforms used to target young people include:

Facebook & Twitter
Supporters and members of ISIL share content such as fabricated news stories and YouTube videos, among their peer groups and can reach high numbers of young users.

YouTube & Instagram
YouTube has been used to broadcast videos from both ISIL and their supporters. These videos are then distributed via social media channels. Instagram has similarly been used by fighters in Syria to showcase how positive and enriched their lives are.

Ask.fm & WhatsApp Messenger
Ask.fm has been popular amongst British youth who have been charmed by the ISIL ideology and would like advice about how to travel and other related issues. ISIL supporters then reply with highly subjective information that favours ISIL. WhatsApp has been used by ISIL supporters to message young people on closed peer-to-peer networks when asked for sensitive information, such as how to travel to the region, what to pack and who to contact when they arrive.

What can schools do?

The role of schools in sheltering pupils from the harms of radicalisation is vital. Radicalisation should be treated like any other safeguarding issue involving online abuse. Schools must ensure that the Designated Safeguarding Lead has undertaken the necessary training and can provide the advice and support needed on protecting children from the risk of radicalisation. This advice can be one way of increasing safeguarding professionals’ mindfulness.

Building children’s resilience to radicalisation

A child’s resilience to radicalisation can be strengthened by ensuring there is a safe environment for debating controversial or provocative issues and helping them to understand how they can impact and contribute to decision-making. Empowering vulnerable young people so they do not feel disillusioned or marginalised is key to decreasing their susceptibility to radicalisation.

We must remain highly conscious of the fact that often radicalisation in one direction can lead to radicalisation in the polar opposite direction. For example, youths who witness violence on screen or who see classmates being radicalised by ISIL may in turn become xenophobic and lean towards nationalistic or fascist militancy.

What to do if you have a concern?

We must remember that this isn’t about reporting young people, it is about protecting them.
Therefore, if school staff are worried about an individual pupil they ought to follow the school’s normal safeguarding procedures, including discussing with the school’s designated safeguarding lead, and where appropriate, with children’s social care.

The Department for Education has established a telephone helpline (020 7340 7264) to enable staff and governors to raise concerns relating to extremism directly. They have also published a very useful guide for schools that expands upon the issues raised in this post.

However, if you are afraid that a child’s life is in immediate danger or that they may be planning to travel to Syria or Iraq take immediate action to safeguard them dial 999 or call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321. Alternatively you can also contact your local police force or dial 101 (the non-emergency number).

Many safeguarding professionals including teachers will be aware of INEQE’s innovative Safer Social Networking Activity Pack training (SSNAP). This October we will be releasing our Safer Social Networking Activity Pack (SNNAP) Masterclass specifically targeting the challenges of safeguarding against radicalisation in the context of access to technology and social media.

Information about our current series of SSNAP masterclasses and how you can better protect children under your care can be found here.

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Safeguarding in the digital era – E-safety is dead

Posted: June 27, 2016 | Jim Gamble QPM

In the digital era that we now live in, we can no longer think of internet safety or e-safety as a separate entity when safeguarding children and young people. In fact, if someone tries to tell you of the importance of “e-safety” in the traditional sense, then you should probably stop listening to them. This is 2016 and “e-safety” as we once knew it is now dead. Today, the online world and the “real” world are so integrated that digital safeguarding IS safeguarding.

Therefore, we can’t simply think of the internet as an afterthought when trying to protect the wellbeing of children and young people.

When the Ineqe team consider online safety, we think of safeguarding in the context of children’s access to technology and their use of social networking sites. However, it’s also important to consider the more hidden dangers, away from the mainstream and easily-accessible public face of the internet. I’m referring to the deep web and more specifically, the dark web. If you haven’t heard of the dark web before, then you are probably quite unlikely to stumble upon it.

It lies beneath the surface of the everyday websites that are accessible via Google and other search engines, in the deep web. It cannot be accessed by traditional web browsers, only via anonymising software, which I won’t go into in too much detail, as I merely wish to inform, not facilitate its use.

The deep web is gigantic and it is impossible to verify how many web pages that are on it at any one time. The anonymity that it provides has made it a labyrinth of criminal activities, some of which directly affect the lives of children and young people. Therefore, it is important for safeguarding and child protection professionals to have at least a basic knowledge of what it is.

Although often used interchangeably, the above graphic highlights the difference between the dark web/ net and the deep web.  Generally, the ‘Deep Web’ is a generic term for all unindexed web pages that can’t be found through search engines such as Google or Bing. The Deep Web includes many webpages that are encrypted with passwords or documents in formats which is why they cannot be indexed.

Gaining access to the deep web is not a difficult process. The hard part is knowing where to look and where not to look. Access to the dark web is not difficult from here. Due to the illicit and illegal material contained on it, I would advise against even browsing it out of curiosity.

The deep/dark web also makes ‘trolling’ easier. Although sites such as Reddit, 4Chan, Ask FM and to a lesser-extent Twitter are home to many people who hide their identity to antagonise others, the dark web gives them an extra cloak of protection. This is partly the reason that I feel that there should be a ‘masquerading’ law, to prevent people from assuming false or anonymous identities.

I’ve seen countless cases of trolling, often done for sport, which have led to depression, self-harm and suicide attempts amongst vulnerable children and young people.

Besides trolling, the dark web provides child abusers with a means of distributing indecent images of children globally to fellow abusers and has made it easier to do so. Although it has made the job of policing this and safeguarding children increasingly difficult, it is still necessary to be aware of.

It’s also important to note that up to a third of these images are now generated by the young people themselves whilst sexting and sharing them online. Child abusers source and curate these images in the dark web.  This shows the normalcy of sexting to young people and how it has become a part of their everyday lives, which is another reason the concept of “e-safety” has become so outdated.

It goes without saying, but due to the nature of the dark web, it is important to restrict children and young people’s access to it. It is always a good rule to try and limit the unsupervised access to the internet that a child has. Children and young people are bound to find this secret section of the internet alluring and may want to investigate. To appease the young person’s interest, you could instead persuade them to join a code club for computer programming to develop their interests in a safer environment.

Any post about the dark web would not be complete without a sensationalised tale of the lurid criminal underbelly it houses. Although it is true that many people use the dark web to purchase drugs and other illegal items, the dark web is also used by people who want to remain anonymous for security and privacy reasons. That includes people who may need to shield their identity and communications from surveillance from the state or other agencies, such as investigative journalists or whistle-blowers. The deep web is used daily for a wide variety of reasons by the military, police and activists, among others.

I have decided to write about the dark web to enhance your understanding of it, rather than rouse your interest. The Dark Web isn’t for spectators and given the illicit and criminal activity that can lurk on it, merely visiting it can be risky. It is still important to know about the factors that could endanger the safety and wellbeing of children and young people though especially, as I mentioned, in the context of their access to and use of technology.

However, if you are interested in finding out more, you may want to attend one of the Glimpse: Into the Dark Web conferences, which will feature speakers such as Jamie Bartlett, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at the think tank Demos and author of ‘The Dark Net’ and of course, myself.

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About the Glimpse: Into the Dark Web conferences

The Glimpse: Into the Dark Web conferences take place this June in Belfast (8th),London (10th) and Birmingham (13th). They have been designed to provide a credible insight into the subcultures that exist in the dark net and the risk indicators in children’s lives that make them vulnerable to on and offline grooming, sexualisation, radicalisation and gang affiliation. It poses the question what makes someone sexually abuse children and uses the interviews of predators themselves to reflect possible answers. They have been created to educate and inform those involved in criminology, psychology, policing, social work, teaching, child protection and safeguarding. A highly credible group of expert speakers have been assembled that will share advice and provide contemporary and practical information and insight across the three conferences and include Chief Constable of the PSNI George Hamilton, QPM and NCA Director General Lynne Owens, CBE QPM.  

A version of this article was originally posted on the LinkedIn Pulse of Ineqe Group CEO Jim Gamble. 

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Thank you to all those involved in our MCS Online conferences

Posted: January 20, 2016 | Jim Gamble QPM

Last Friday’s Make Children Safer Online: Emerging Threats conference in Belfast concluded this series of events. We have been overwhelmed by the positive response we have received from the Birmingham, London and Belfast conferences.

We feel that our Make Children Safer conference will have been invaluable to child protection professionals when it comes to spotting the dangers posed to children in the online environment and we hope that our delegates agree.

This series of conferences covered a wide range of topics such as gaming, sexting and sextortion and we hope that everyone who attended now feels that they are up-to-date with the current themes, trends and best practice.

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We would like to thank the guest speakers at our events, who provided expert insight into a wide range of contemporary issues. These were:

  • Lorin LaFave: Breck Bednar Foundation
  • Professor Andy Phippen: Professor of Social Responsibility in I.T. at Plymouth University
  • Shahneila Saeed: UK Internet Entertainment
  • Laura Higgins: UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC)

We hope that we can use the unique perspective and knowledge that they provided as we go on to deliver our next series of masterclasses, Safeguarding in a Digital World, in 2016.

Some of the amazing feedback that we received from delegates, comprised of teachers, police officers, social workers and other child protection professionals, included:

I have been to several conferences and inset courses on internet safety over the last few years, and those run by Ineqe are easily the best – the most relevant, practical, up to date and down to earth events out there.  I look forward to seeing you in the future.

Excellent course. Thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely recommend it

Very informative. Hard hitting. Thought I knew about internet safety but I had no idea. Not just about security settings!

Fantastic, very informative course that I will go away and feedback to my school and will impact hugely on the support and guidance we can offer.

This should be mandatory for anyone working in safeguarding. Beyond my expectations

Jim Gamble Lorin LaFave BBC Talkback

On Friday we were also fortunate enough to be featured on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme.

You can listen to one of our speakers Lorin LaFave speaking to William Crawley alongside our CEO Jim Gamble here.

Ineqe Group will also be delivering our acclaimed Glimpse series of conferences later in 2016, where we will feature another excellent range of speakers who will address contemporary safeguarding issues. You can register your interest for this conference by emailing [email protected].

Thank you to all those who were involved in or attended our Make Children Safer Online: Emerging Threats conferences and have a safe 2016. Hopefully we will see you again soon!

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Internet safety – The blame game won’t help but new thinking might

Posted: November 8, 2015 | Jim Gamble QPM

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

When it comes to the topics of internet safety, child sexual exploitation and grooming, too often we all play the blame game. We focus on one player or another, the internet industry, parents, teachers, social workers, and the police or the influence commercialisation has on our children’s attitudes to sex. What this means is that by accident rather than design we provide a sense of panic, misdirection of blame and a distraction that enables predators to hide.

In my opinion, the reason our children are at risk of sexualisation, radicalisation, bullying and other forms of intimidation online is unequivocally down to people, not the technology they use. Cars don’t kill people – people driving them do. The internet is no different.

That said, it is important to consider how well each of us is doing in our efforts to keep young and vulnerable internet users safer. In my experience context is key. Reporting or making comments that lack appropriate context can be misleading.

A recent UK news article highlighted that of 363 reported cases concerning children groomed online since 2013, 263 (72%) involved Facebook. A damning statistic if totally accurate and if taken at face value without considering context.

Placed into context I think it would be surprising if Facebook didn’t feature as a substantial percentage of this number, if for no other reasons than it is the most dominant and successful of current social media providers. They have 1.49 billion active monthly users (Statista, 2nd quarter 2015).

In my opinion Facebook has radically improved its approach to safety over the last five or six years and they have set a standard others in the industry should seek to follow. There is of course still room for improvement, particularly concerning age verification; a problem for the entire internet industry.

The public nature of Facebook ‘cover photos’ presents an opportunity for people to gain an insight into young people’s lives, their interests, where they live and what they look like. These risks manifest themselves if young users or their parents or carers don’t ensure the public cover photos are constructed with privacy and safety in mind. The propensity of young users to accept friend requests from people they don’t actually know is another issue linked as much to behaviour as to Facebook systems.

The reason Facebook may be linked to lots of incidents is not just because it is so big but because the vast majority of young users use their Facebook credentials to sign up to or into other apps.

Most of the recent work we at Ineqe Group have done with schools has reinforced the fact that whether it is bullying or sexual abuse, predators engage in one online space and move their target to another. We’ve looked at a number of cases in schools recently and tested out the things they’ve told us. In one online chat site which encourages users to talk to strangers, our experience was identical to that of the members of our Safe and Secure schools network. The conversation turned almost immediately to sex and an invitation to move to Kik.

Social media platforms obviously have a duty of care but to be fair if you’re going to focus solely on Facebook you need to recognise they have one of the best moderation and support systems in the business. In actuality Facebook, Twitter, Kik and other social media platforms are just public spaces and it is the people who occupy those spaces who represent a risk to one another. I know the Facebook of today is very different from the start-up it was many years ago. Lots of work has been done, not least by Joanna Shields during her time there and more recently Simon Milne, and their trust and safety team. They’ve reduced opportunities to commit crimes against children within and without their environment and recently introduced a photo identification system to identify and remove indecent images of children. So demand more but don’t look for a silver bullet solution or an individual scapegoat.

The truth is commercial companies can only do so much. We don’t expect a hotel manager to investigate a theft, fight or sexual offence on their premises. We do however expect them to report to the police and when they do it is right that we expect the police to respond.

However, the police themselves cannot deal with this problem in isolation. Cuts in policing numbers have consequences in the real world and in the online world the reduction in resources is making a bad situation worse. Underinvestment in online policing over many years makes it a virtual lottery when it comes to providing a realistic deterrence online. Does anyone seriously think predators sharing images or grooming children on the internet think they’ll be caught? If they did there would be far fewer of them.

Child abuse investigations in the UK have increased 88% since 2012 and the National Police Chiefs Council’s (NPCC) child protection lead Simon Bailey estimates there will be 70,000 live child abuse investigations (of all kinds) underway by the end of this year. Set these figures in the context of a reduction of 32,000 police officers and staff over the same period and consider the fact that there are more cuts to come and you have an idea of the pressure the police service is under.

Parents must play their part and accept rather than abdicate greater levels of responsibility. If your child is online you need to be there too and you need to take or make time to understand how it all works. That means get on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Learn how to set the individual safety settings and get to grips with how to block and report on each.

It’s easy to blame the likes of Facebook, Twitter and, if you don’t understand the way technology works, Google – but that won’t help, sometimes it’s like punching postman Pat because he delivers a letter you don’t like.

In 2012 CEOP estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 IP addresses (devices) in the UK were downloading child abuse images. In my opinion the people who look at these images tend to do so because of a sexual interest in children and recent studies support my view that most have or will at some stage commit a contact offence against children.

We know there are millions of images circulating between nests of offenders in online peer-to-peer networks and on the dark web but far too few resources are actually dedicated to looking for them; in my experience a comparative handful.

We need to change our approach before it’s too late. So rather than hiding behind sporadic attacks on the internet industry we should concentrate our resources and declare war on those who bully, intimidate, harass, radicalise or sexually abuse our children online.

A possible solution is to mobilise a citizen’s army of special ‘digital’ constables. Volunteers from villages, towns and cities across the UK. People who volunteer would be vetted for good character and recruited as special digital constables.

These citizen volunteers would work from police stations across the country giving up a couple of nights a week. Supervised and supported they would simply go online, pretend to be ‘jessica13’ and wait.

Catching the predators can often be like shooting fish in a barrel. The problem is we don’t have enough people to catch enough of them to create a meaningful deterrent. We all need reinforcements. A special digital volunteer force of 1000 plus citizens could turn the tide.

Terrible headlines are repeated every so often and for a short time people pay attention. We understandably get angry and point the finger of blame at those we can see or reach but we can’t just keep staggering from one sensational headline-grabbing case to another. The blame game must end.

I know I live in a glass house when it comes to this and have thrown a few stones myself especially when it comes to blaming the government.  I do however recognise that the government have rightly challenged many of the key players to do better and that they have funded and supported the further development of the Child Abuse Image Database (CAID) but more, much more, needs to be done. Investment is key and it must come from government, if not by significant new financial investment then from creative new thinking. Such new thinking could do well to formalise an approach that supports and encourages the use of digital volunteers.

By Jim Gamble (Ineqe Group CEO)

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H2BSafer Online Welcomes Instagram Changes Just in time for school!

Posted: September 2, 2015 | Admin

On September 1, 2015, Instagram announced improvements to their Instagram Direct feature that now allows users to leave a group conversation. Previously, users added to a conversation were locked in, and whilst they could mute messages, they could not leave it altogether. This could have been especially traumatic if a child was the subject of abuse in a conversation and meant a group conversation could be an unescapable online bully circle. Monday’s improvements are a great step in the right direction for Instagram, owned by Facebook, and will help to reduce the risk and abuse that your child could face on Instagram.

Also, if someone your child doesn’t know/follow sends them a message, it’ll appear as a request in their inbox. To decline or allow the message, they can tap the message then select Decline or Allow at the bottom of the screen. When they allow a message request from someone, their future messages will go directly to the child’s inbox.

Your child can report abusive messages that are sent to them with Instagram Direct by tapping and holding the message, then selecting Report. Also, if they want to stop someone from sending them abusive or threatening messages on Instagram Direct, they can block that person or report their profile.

How does your child leave a group conversation in Instagram Direct?

When they leave a group conversation, they won’t get messages from the group unless someone adds them back to the conversation. To leave a group message in Instagram Direct:

    1. In the top right of Feed tap:
    2. Tap the group conversation you’d like to leave
    3. In the top right tap:

  1. Tap Leave Conversation, then tap to confirm

Bear in mind that your child may need to manually update their Instagram app to ensure the updates are installed.

Written by the H2BSafer team.

H2BSafer online is part of the Ineqe Group of companies, whose CEO Jim Gamble is the former and founding CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

#WhiteFlowers – Reflections on Yesterday’s #CSAinquiry event

Posted: January 15, 2015 | Admin

Following the memorial I sat amongst the audience as I did not wish to push myself forward, on a day that was all about survivors, their stories, hopes and fears.

I have tweeted several times about the day which left me sad, emotionally exhausted, but overwhelmingly impressed.

I thought the meeting represented a good start and was certainly a step in the right direction. If you repeat it, I think it would be important to give survivors from the audience an opportunity to speak and question. Fewer speakers would allow for this.

It would also be good to either survey the attendees, as this would strengthen your future negotiating position and/or have two or three key points to agree/disagree during the meeting.

What you have achieved is remarkable. Bringing so many people together and managing the pain and anger in the room was no small thing. Harnessing the power of yesterday’s group and focusing their influence must, in my opinion, be the event organisers next step.

I don’t think it’s too late for the Government to pause and plan a way forward using a more sensitive and sensible approach.

This is what I think should happen.

The Government should first and foremost establish a fund to support survivors. This would give them better access to specialist services, resources and other support. Such a gesture would be an immediate recognition of the fact that they have been let down over many years by establishment bodies and governments.

The Inquiry should begin/recommence with a survivors forum. Not dissimilar to your large meeting yesterday. The group must be as inclusive as possible and be given the difficult task of achieving consensus on key/critical terms of reference. They should then be asked to elect an advisory panel. That panel would provide advice and oversight from a survivors perspective to government. It would provide a forum to discuss the pros and cons of different types of inquiries and achieve some sense of agreement on what is needed and the best method of achieving it, i.e., statutory v Royal Commission.

A chair should then be appointed and an expert panel established via a ‘transparent’ process. All of this would be overseen and informed by the survivors oversight panel, who would have representation on the expert panel. Whilst survivor experience must be represented the expert panel would also require investigators, academics and other appropriate child protection professionals.

I am sure many of the individuals on the current panel are good people, this is not about them, it’s about a process that lacks transparency and therefore undermines the confidence of many survivors in it.

This approach would be a good first step in the long process of rebuilding trust.

Once established the Inquiry should be fundamentally independent and that includes government. An Inquiry imposed by government is very different than one facilitated by it.

If this process had been followed in the first instance survivors would have had ownership and government credible advice and support.

The handling of appointments has been disastrous and demonstrates that the current government don’t do detail. They don’t take time to listen, to plan or to consider better options.

The recent Wanless review, of reviews, only reinforces the need for government to be distanced from the Inquiry. That review was in my opinion about the government retaining control. You cannot successfully review yourself by choosing the method, no matter how honourable the individual. The loss of documents by the Home Office needs to be investigated, not reviewed and their approach to it demonstrates they have yet to learn lessons from the past.

A Blog by Jim Gamble, former head of CEOP and current Chief Executive of INEQE Safe and Secure.
@JimGamble_INEQE

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