YOUNG PEOPLE must think twice before sharing flirtatious images of themselves in the virtual world, with as many as 75,000 paedophiles online at any one time, a new hard-hitting police campaign warns.
Some 40 per cent of young people are estimated to have shared intimate images of themselves online, North Yorkshire Police said, with the force eager to use its latest campaign to target the 11-18 age group and explain how easily such images can be circulated beyond their control.
The warning comes after the National Crime Agency said that law enforcement officers are investigating one case involving so-called “sexting” every day. The practice has become “normal” among teenagers with the huge growth in popularity of smart phones and tablets but can leave them vulnerable to exploitation or blackmail, the Agency said.
Three cautionary videos have been produced to support the new police campaign and one video will be released each week for the next three weeks on North Yorkshire Police’s social media channels.
The first portrays a scenario of a girl sending a flirtatious image of herself to her boyfriend via a mobile phone app. When the boy receives the image he shares it with a friend, who then does likewise and so the pattern repeats, leaving the original sender exposed to the picture being seen my many unintended recipients.
Explaining why North Yorkshire Police had launched the ‘Keep it to your selfie’ campaign which urges teenagers to ‘#pausebeforeyoupost’, Detective Chief Inspector Matt Walker, the force’s head of cybercrime, said: “If we are to tackle child sexual exploitation effectively, we have to educate young people and do whatever we can to highlight the dangers to them and promote online safety.
“The internet, and social media in particular, is a place where paedophiles can groom children by posing as someone else and we have to make young people aware of that.
“I hope the videos we have produced can help young people stop and think about what they are doing before posting anything online.
“People share images and information in the virtual world that they wouldn’t dream of sharing in the real world and we need to make young people think about that.
“It is also important to bear in mind that once you have shared an image online you lose control of it, you don’t know where it will end up or whose hands it will fall into. You might think you are only sharing it with one person but do you know who they are going to share it with?”
The campaign was launched at Selby Globe Community Cinema yesterday.
Detective Inspector Shaun Page, North Yorkshire Police’s lead for child sexual exploitation, said the campaign footage was something he did want young people to share.
“I am urging people to share the videos as much as possible,” he said. “It is really important that we educate young people about child sexual exploitation and we think that the best way to reach them is online.
“The videos all carry a strong message in a style which young people can identify with and if they can prompt people to think carefully when using the internet and social media then we are making progress.
“It is very difficult to investigate child sexual exploitation which is committed online, therefore prevention and education is extremely important if we are to protect young people from internet predators.”