Facebook on the spot in Kenya as exploitation of minors rife on its platform – TechCrunch

According to the Disrupting Harm Report, internet-based sexual exploitation in Kenya of minors was more prevalent on Facebook than any other site. This makes Facebook's platform extremely unsafe for children.
Interpol's Office of Research–Innocenti and End Violence against Children found that Facebook was responsible for more than 90% of the cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation of minors in East Africa last year. This report was based on data from the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, interviews with minors and their parents, as well as information from policing agencies and lawyers.

Other platforms that allowed child sex abuse videos and imagery to be "possessed, manufactured, and distributed" include WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, and WhatsApp. This report follows data from NCMEC that shows that Facebook had reported over 20 million child-sex violence images globally last year. That's 37 times more than Google, which was second. It also shows that Instagram has a serious impact on teenage girls' mental health. Even as Meta, Instagram’s parent company, contemplates launching the currently suspended Instagram Kids for minors aged 13 and under.

Meta did not respond to requests for comment on its efforts to end the platform's exploitation of minors.

According to CyberTipline reports by the NCMEC, overall incidents of child sexual abuse online in Kenya increased six percentage points to 14,434 instances. CyberTipline allows minors to report incidents of sexual exploitation. Kenya is the only East African country that has direct access to NCMEC's reporting system via its Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), Anti-Human Trafficking & Child Protection Units (AHTCPU), and Interpol's International Child Sexual Exploitation Database.

Children were most often targeted via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Facebook Messenger. According to the report, this is likely because WhatsApp and Facebook - two of the most popular social media platforms here in Kenya – are where kids spend most of their online time."

TechCrunch's Mueni Mutisya told TechCrunch the AHTCPU is receiving about 22 cybertip reports per day. According to her, the country has seen an increase in cases since the COVID pandemic began. This situation has also been fuelled by social media.

"Social media has made it easier to share, produce and distribute online sexual exploitation (OCSEA)" Predators have made it easier to lure young people into sharing explicit photos and succumbing to an overly sexualized culture.

According to this report on social media landscape, WhatsApp is the most used social app in Kenya. YouTube and Facebook are second and third. More than three quarters (75%) of Kenyans are connected to the internet. This makes sites such as Facebook and WhatsApp accessible.

More than half of victims interviewed for this report stated that they received sexual material requests online, rather than offline. One in five minors also said that they were approached in person. This seems to be a shift in the predatory ways offenders prey upon children. According to the study, minors between 12 and 17 years old were at greatest risk of being subject to online sexual exploitation. The study also found that both boys and girls faced the same level.

They were often well-known to victims and used money or gifts (sexual extortion), to get the minors to meet them or share images or videos. These offers were often made via "Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and YouTube." Some cited Instagram and ByteDance’s platform TikTok. Others were threatened or blackmailed into sharing obscenities or participating in them.

Further, the report indicated that Kenya was a country where foreign law enforcement agencies have found livestreaming of child sex abuse to be an attractive option. Google search engine trends revealed that the country's sex offenders were searching for images and videos showing sexual activity between teens, with children, and with babies. Security agencies also identified Kenya as a hotspot of child-sex offenders from abroad.

Social media sites are full of instances of online grooming children for sexual purposes. The intent was to manipulate them into creating and sharing abuse material. This is one form of OCSEA (along with livestreaming), that Kenyan authorities do not consider criminal. Only the Computer Misuse Act can be used to charge offenders. This penalizes those who expose a child sexualized content, and the Sexual Offences Act which criminalizes child pornography.

The report stated that the Children Bill 2021 in Kenya will not cover online grooming. It may only apply to grooming done with the intention of meeting children.

The legislation, currently undergoing legislative approval, was filed in 2020. The public was invited to submit suggestions for the new law by lawmakers a fortnight ago. This provided an opportunity to close the gap.

The report stated that it was hoped that a provision banning grooming online would still be included.

Because these crimes are trans-border, Kenya collaborates closely with international and local authorities in order to identify the criminals and make arrests. Kenya's DCI AHTCPU works closely with the country's communications regulator in order to inform the public about the nature of these crimes, and encourage them to report.

"Due to the global nature of internet crime, the DCI AHTCPU has partnered up with other strategic partners national and international to fight OCSEA." Mutisya stated that Interpol is used to issue notices for cross-border OCSEA cases.

"We also work closely together with the International Liaison officer at the British High Commission and the FBI legal attache (in Kenya) to seek justice and follow up on offenders and victims of online abuse. She said that this is in addition to school visits and public outreach to educate, create awareness, and sensitize."

The authors of Disrupting Harm hope that the report's findings will provide a roadmap for the adoption strategies to deal with online sexual abuse of children.