Public reports of suspected child sexual abuse material online reached a record high in September but the charity responsible for investigating incidents said valuable time is being wasted by an increased number of false alerts.
Last month, analysts at the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) processed 15,258 cases brought to their attention, 45% more than in September 2019.
Already this year, the charity has looked into 230,520 reports – which includes tip offs from members of the public, the police, and internet providers – topping the 260,400 record set in 2019.
The charity believes more people working from home during the coronavirus lockdown has contributed to the surge but says that false reports risk hampering efforts to keep the internet safe.
Overall public reporting accuracy has fallen from 35% in January to 26% in September, meaning analysts are dealing with thousands of reports which end up not being within the IWF’s remit.
“Public reporting has been going up year on year because of a combination of things, but it has definitely accelerated,” said Chris Hughes, IWF hotline director.
“More people spending longer at home, and more people being more active online may mean more people are spotting criminal content and calling it out.
“Of the reports not actioned – the bulk of these false or inaccurate reports featured content that is outside of the IWF remit.
“These included images containing potentially provocative slogans on children’s clothing, or reports of legal adult pornography.
“Over reporting of otherwise legal content by members of the public and activist groups has led to analysts being less productive in the fight against child sexual abuse material due to the increased resource required to process inaccurate and off remit reports.”
Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, added: “These numbers suggest people are being vigilant about what they see online, and are standing up to make the digital world a safer place to live and work in.
“Our analysts still have to look carefully at every single report we receive to make sure there is nothing criminal hidden in there and if people are reporting inappropriate things to us – it wastes a lot of valuable time they could be spending finding and removing child sexual abuse material from the internet.
“People must report child sexual abuse, but please check first to make sure what you’re reporting is something we can help with.”