Cases of paedophiles using the internet to commit sex crimes against children have trebled in three years, figures show, prompting renewed demands for tougher regulation of social media companies.
The number of cyber sex offences against children increased to 9,543, according to the data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), up from 3,186.
However, the NSPCC said that the actual total was likely to be higher because of inconsistencies in the way the offences, which included rape, sexual assault and grooming, were recorded.
The role of social media has been revealed because police are now required to “cyber flag” any crime in which the internet played a part.
NSPCC research into grooming, based on freedom of information requests, found Facebookowned apps, which include Instagram and WhatsApp, accounted for half of the cases in a new offence of sexual communication with a child.
Peter Wanless, the NSPCC chief executive, said: “It is time social networks were made to take responsibility and stopped allowing their platforms to be used as gateways for these devastating crimes. Sites must be required to create safe accounts for children and take proactive steps to detect grooming.”
The Telegraph is campaigning for a statutory duty of care to be imposed on social media firms to force them to do more to protect children.