Social media sites should be fined if they fail to protect children from online predators, the NSPCC has said.
The charity said Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were used in nearly 70% of child grooming offences in England and Wales over 12 months from April 2017.
The NSPCC Cymru likened the “dangerous side” of social media to the “Wild West”, and has now called on the Government’s digital secretary Jeremy Wright and Home Secretary Sajid Javid to introduce an independent regulator with the power to investigate and fine social networks if they fall short in protecting children.
The UK Government has pledged to introduce legislation to keep social networks in check, with a white paper expected in the coming months.
Head of Service at NSPCC Cymru in Wales, Des Mannion, said: “Technology has developed so rapidly that governments, legislation and society have failed to keep up, resulting in social networks often becoming a gateway to child abuse.
“The NSPCC believes the dangerous side of the internet and social media, the ‘Wild West Web’, has claimed too many victims.
“Sites must be required to take proactive steps to detect grooming, so that abuse can be disrupted before it escalates and social networks must be forced to publish annual transparency reports about the scale of abuse on their platforms.
“We already know from police that where the method used in grooming offences is recorded, nearly 70% are happening on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram.
“The UK Government’s digital secretary Jeremy Wright and home secretary Sajid Javid have the power in their hands and they now need to take effective action.
“Social networks must be properly regulated for the sake of children today and for generations to come.”
A spokesman for Facebook said: “The exploitation of children on the internet is a challenge we take extremely seriously. We work closely with child protection experts, the police and other technology companies to block and remove exploitative photos and videos, as well as to prevent grooming online.
“We proactively search for activity which has the hallmarks of grooming and where we detect a threat of imminent harm, we report it to the police. We publish a regular Transparency Report which explains how we enforce our policies.”
A spokesman for Snapchat said: “The exploitation of any member of our community, especially young people, is absolutely unacceptable and a complete breach of our Community Guidelines. We go to great lengths to prevent and respond to this type of illegal activity on Snapchat.”
A spokesman for Instagram said: “Child exploitation is not tolerated anywhere on Instagram. We work with the police and CEOP to help protect young people and use powerful technology to remove this type of content and prevent it from being shared.”
A Government spokesman said: “The Home Secretary has been unequivocal in his demands for web giants to remove child sexual abuse content from their platforms and tackle online grooming.
“New legislation will be informed by the action and attitude that industry takes right now and we will be setting out our plans for legislation in the forthcoming online harms white paper.
“We need everyone, whether they are from law enforcement, frontline professionals, the technology industry, charities, parents and schools to play their role in tackling this problem.”