IWF: Building trust online globally

The work of the Internet Watch Foundation’s (IWF) centres around the online world. Day-in-day-out the IWF removes child sexual abuse imagery online and receives reports from members of the public from around the world via an online reporting form.

The IWF represents just one of many web-based services that use electronic information rather than voice or face-to-face communication to do its important work. While the web-based link removes the human-to-human direct communication, the IWF is dedicated to building relationships of trustworthiness with the public.

Trust is a vital component of the online world. The public must trust that services will be provided as advertised and that they will not disclose private customer information (name, address, etc.). Trust and honesty will influence the public’s decision as to whether they will use a service.

It is crucial that members of the public don’t delay in reporting suspected child sexual abuse images or videos that they may stumble across online. To value and protect the innocence of children is to value and protect society itself. Just one simple, anonymous report of an image or link can help save someone from a lifetime of online sexual abuse.

However, when it comes to submitting a report, members of the public might hesitate. This could be because they experience fear in connecting themselves with potentially illegal content, or that they are not the ones responsible for reporting this type of content. It is a heavy decision-making process, and members of the public need to have confidence in doing the right thing.

This recent video, made by the IWF in collaboration with LadBible and narrated by an internet analyst at the IWF, recalls when a young man decided to make a report of a website he had come across. The reporter saw the website and thought something just didn’t look right, it looked like the sexual abuse of a girl in an image. She was clearly young and the image was quite sexually explicit. You could see by her interactions with her laptop that she was being groomed online. A couple of days later the police had found the victim and she had been safeguarded. The young man who reported to the IWF really helped that child.

To encourage more reports from the public, the IWF works actively to build trust. We do this by offering anonymous and confidential reporting for everyone. For those who are based outside of the UK, we have integrated other features to increase trust through our international Reporting Portals. The Portals are created for specific countries where the language reflects the spoken dialect in that area. We also work with local partners who lead the publicity and promotion of the Portal, so it is clear the mechanism is relevant for local citizens. Additionally, we also work with national governments to improve their knowledge of the emerging and growing risks of violence against children online. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Portal is offered in three languages (Lingala, Swahili and French), promoted by a Congolese child rights charity – Menelik Education, and, enthusiastically supported by the Ministry of Gender.  These partnerships matter and help to communicate that the Reporting Portals are linked to existing efforts to protect children in their country.

Challenges to the trust of internet services can occur in countries where sudden control is exerted over online platforms. In Uganda for example, Parliament passed new tax laws that charge citizens for a range of online services in May 2018. Services identified for taxation include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, YouTube, Skype, Yahoo Messenger and many others. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has defended the country’s new social media tax, saying Ugandans were using such platforms for ‘lying’. Such changes in the experience of using and conceptualising the online world can affect a citizen’s trust in online services. This can present a challenge for organisations such as the IWF that relies on reports of online child sexual abuse material, including from citizens in Uganda via their Portal. However, as the global network of IWF Portals expands, the more global gravitas our services receive, resulting in more trust being built. By 2020, the IWF will have 48 Reporting Portals to assist citizens around the world and maintaining trust will be a large part of that growth.