The (Un)hidden Threat: Child Grooming on Social Media -

The (Un)hidden Threat: Child Grooming on Social Media


Technative generations do not know life without the internet and even my one year old niece knows how to navigate a device. Whilst screen time can be good for learning and a useful tool for negotiation there are so many uncontrolled opportunities for exposure to illicit material and seemingly harmless interactions wherein lies sinister threats: child grooming. 

The NCA just exposed a site used by 90,000 global members engaging with some of the most extreme kinds of abuse material, involving ‘hurtcore’ and the sexual abuse of infants. ShadowDragon’s own auto-redaction programs found that a 50% increase in ‘likely illegal content’ in darkweb sites we catalog. That’s more than 250,000 darkweb sites containing content linked to exploitative material.

As Fox News highlighted social media is a breeding ground for child sexual exploitation and growing at an alarming rate; over the course of a four-year period of time, we’ve been able to categorize over a quarter million different sites that have grown. From four years ago, there were 10,000 sites that we had categorized as questionable and likely illegal content. Now, it’s over a quarter million that we’re seeing yearly versus 10,000 yearly, so that’s like on area of growth that we’ve seen just in the dark web.

Beneath the surface of child grooming on social media is a disturbing reality that parents, guardians, and society at large must confront and address. We talk about the alarming issue of child grooming, its methods, impacts, and what we can do to protect our children online in our latest podcast.

The NSPCC refers to the process by which an adult builds a relationship with a child for the purpose of sexually exploiting them. Predators often use social media platforms to identify, befriend, and manipulate their victims. They may masquerade as peers, offering attention, affection, and even gifts to gain the child’s trust.

Predators often use gaming sites, popular with children like Roblox and engage in groups to control certain narratives using abbreviations, emojis, code words and synonyms.

Immature group names that appeal to young children are used to lure them in with humor, then begin to normalize explicit language and objectify through speech and text. Here are examples taken from popular gaming site, Roblox: 

The above screenshots were taken from open forums within Roblox – anyone can access them with an account, which does not ask for any verification of age and does not require an email or phone number to sign up. Once users are ‘added’ as friends, predators can take online conversations into private chats. From private chats children are often encouraged to communicate through other private means – darkweb chats or encrypted messaging apps, for example. Encouragement to send explicit pictures or videos is often the goal of predators at this point. ‘Sexploitation’ is sometimes the goal, meaning the persuasion to send explicit pictures to use as leverage over a child or teenager for further exploitation. The next escalation in the grooming ladder is physical meetings. This is the most dangerous where physical harm, harassment, assault or kidnapping are prevalent and can result in human or sex trafficking. We talked about some tips for keeping children safe online here.

Key word detection 

The consequences of child grooming can be devastating, leading to long-term psychological and emotional trauma and even more sinister acts of trafficking. We spoke to The Sophie Hayes Foundation on the long term plan and relationship tactics predators use. 

Child grooming on social media is a pervasive and insidious threat that demands our collective attention and action. Often the perpetrators are known to the child. By raising awareness, educating our children, and implementing protective measures, we can create safer online environments and prevent the exploitation of vulnerable individuals. Together, let us strive to safeguard the innocence and well-being of our children in the digital age.


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