More than 90 per cent of adults in the East Midlands think social networks should face criminal sanctions if they fail to keep children safe, new research has found.
A survey by the NSPCC showed that 81 per cent of those surveyed from the East Midlands think that named company directors should face criminal prosecution for significant breaches of children's safety, while 92 per cent agreed that social networks should face corporate prosecution for significant breaches.
These figures come just days after the government released its Online Harms White Paper, which proposed introducing an independent regulator to enforce a legal duty of care on tech companies to keep users safe on their platforms.
The NSPCC said it believes that tough sanctions are needed to ensure that responsibility to keep children safe is truly embedded in the boardrooms of tech firms.
The government is consulting on various aspects of the proposed laws, including whether senior managers should be made liable for gross breaches and whether this should be criminal rather than civil liability.
And the charity said it believes it must be criminal and also that a new corporate offence should be created so that tech firms can be prosecuted for gross breaches in their duty of care to children.
An opinion poll of more than 2,000 adults found that nationally, 77 per cent back criminal prosecution of named directors for significant breaches of child safety and 85 per cent support corporate prosecutions to be brought against social networks for significant breaches.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: "The government's pledge to bring in independent statutory regulation of social networks is hugely significant but, for effective enforcement, it is vital the regulator has teeth.
"These latest figures show there is overwhelming support for both corporate and individual criminal liabilty in cases where tech companies significantly fail to protect children from harm.
"We urge the government to take this crucial opportunity and decide on the legislation that will make tech firms feel the full weight of the law if they fail in their duty of care to children."
Danielle Armitage was groomed on a social network by a 49-year-old man when she was only 14. She initially believed he was 16. He kept her silence by threatening to hurt her family but was prosecuted and jailed after her father discovered the truth.
Now 22, Danielle speaks out about the abuse to campaign for tech companies to protect young people on their sites.
Talking about the abuse, Danielle said: “He started being affectionate, and he would give me compliments. As I was feeling quite alone at that time, it was nice to get that attention.
“As our relationship developed, I felt there was a bond there. I felt in no danger at all. After two or three weeks we decided to meet up just round the corner from my school.
“It’s only when I was sat in the passenger’s seat that I realised how old he was. That realisation was scary. He started driving straight away. He didn’t even say anything to me. He took me to a nearby forest, and told me to take my clothes off so he could take photographs.”
Danielle was coerced into meeting up with him on two more occasions, with the sexual abuse becoming more violent.
She said: “Things need to change. I help my partner care for his two girls who spend time on the internet. I am scared for their safety, even though we put all the parental controls in place to protect them.
“It is important that social networks put in protective measures that will stop abuse from happening in the first place and not just reacting once it’s already begun.”
Sanctions the government has already committed to, and for which the NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign called for, include the regulator issuing civil fines, serving enforcement notices, publishing public failure notices and requiring tech firms to disclose information about the breach.