Andrew Puddephatt OBE
In December 2020 I came to the end of my first term as the Chair of the IWF Board of Trustees. I had thought the first two years of my tenure had been busy and challenging but nothing could prepare us for what happened in 2020.
We started the year with a focus on the forthcoming Online Harms legislation and the role that the IWF would play in a new regulatory framework. This included developing and proposing a new governance model which would enable us to operate both as an independent charity working with the internet industry across the world and also a new regulatory arm which would take on a range of functions to assist the regulator. In the early months of the year we met with government, law enforcement, NGOs, international partners and of course, our Members, to discuss and finesse the model as we received more information about what the legislation was likely to include.
In March, like everyone, we were hit by the global pandemic. As the Trustees of the charity, we were immediately aware that this was likely to result in an increase in online child sexual abuse – the conditions meant that not only were children at home and online for many more hours every day, but so were the perpetrators – creating a perfect storm.
The IWF was providing an essential service to the public and the Home Office designated the team as key workers. The executive team at the IWF immediately put in place measures to protect the staff at work and I am proud to say, as Chair, that the IWF has remained open since the first day of lockdown providing a safe and anonymous place to report child sexual abuse material. Maintaining our operations has also meant that IWF services which the internet industry uses to disrupt and prevent the distribution of this imagery could continue. This was particularly important as many of our Member companies were operating at reduced levels in their moderation teams so needed these protections on their platforms.
In the UK we also initiated a number of discussions and roundtables between the Government and industry Members to truly understand the impact of the pandemic on the safety of children. It was essential that everyone working in the online safety space shared intelligence so that we could protect children as much as possible. Sadly, our predictions were realised when we saw a 77% increase in the amount of self-generated content in 2020. Never has it been more important to keep children safe online.
The IWF’s international focus doesn’t stop with providing trusted tools and services to industry all over the world. In 2020 the IWF launched its 40th reporting portal outside of the UK. Working with partners on the ground, the IWF portals provide citizens in some of the least developed countries in the world with somewhere to report suspected child sexual abuse, including in India, Zambia, Uganda, Malawi and many more.
Whilst dealing with the impact of the pandemic, we continued with our Online Harms work and relevant discussions. In July, as part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, we took over running the Secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Media, chaired by Chris Elmore MP which commissioned its first inquiry into the rise in self-generated child sexual abuse material. We have also maintained a programme of awareness raising of the IWF’s work with parliamentarians across all the parties.
Every year, I thank the work of the IWF Hotline team who do one of the most difficult jobs imaginable, assessing child sexual abuse material every single day. This year they have continued to provide this service, coming into the office each day to ensure that the fight doesn’t falter, because they know that we owe it to every victim to be working to remove every single image to stop their suffering. I also want to commend Susie Hargreaves and her senior team who have stood side by side with the Hotline team demonstrating exceptional leadership in unprecedented times.