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Social media giants tip Finnish police off on thousands of suspicious images

Child sex abuse reports in Finland have grown by more than 50 percent in the past two years.

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The NBI says perpetrators can send hundreds of grooming messages with a single click. Image: Esko Jämsä / AOP

Last year social media networks sent Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) some 5,000 tip-offs regarding potential child sex abuse material.

Sari Sarani, a cyber crime specialist with the NBI, said incoming alerts multiplied as social media networks started to more closely monitor and report illicit material.

Most tip-offs to the NBI pertain to child sex abuse images and attempts by users to groom children for sexual acts.

Sometimes the tips run into a dead end if Finnish police are unable to track down locations or potential victims and perpetrators. In some cases, material flagged by social media companies doesn't raise concern in Finland, particularly in regard to sauna photos.

"In the United States, sharing a Finnish-style sauna photo would most often be considered illicit. In Finland it isn’t unless there’s something sexual about the picture," Sarani explained.

Cases of children sharing their own naked photos on social media have also landed at the NBI. The bureau may forward these types of cases to child welfare authorities even if there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Police said it’s unclear whether the surge in tip-offs is due to better filters or if online sex crime is becoming more rampant.

About five child sex abuse reports were lodged in Finland for every day of 2019, totalling 1,837 counts.

Child sex abuse reports in Finland grew by 56 percent over the past two years, according to figures published by the National Police Board on Friday.

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