CHARITY bosses have called on the government to regulate social media sites in order to keep children safe.

An investigation by the NSPCC has revealed that Facebook – or sites the company owns – was used in more than half of online grooming cases where police revealed which platform was used.

In the nine month since the offence of sexual communication with a child was criminalised there were 1,628 crimes recorded in England and Wales, and police revealed what platform was used in 956 cases.

Facebook and apps it owns, Instagram and Whatsapp, were used in 52% of those cases, with Facebook being the most-recorded site overall.

Essex Police recorded 27 crimes for sexual communication with a child over the first nine months of the new offence being in force, and the youngest child contacted was aged just 10 years old.

Social media sites used to target children in Essex were Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype, and Facetime, as well as less well known apps Kik,, Dischord, and Wikia.Dom.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport has plans to introduce a voluntary code for social networks, but NSPCC bosses want regulations to be mandatory.

The NSPCC is calling for • An independent regulator for social networks with fining powers.

• A mandatory code which introduces Safe Accounts for children; grooming alerts using algorithms; and fast-tracking of reports to moderators which relate to child safety.

• Mandatory transparency reports forcing social networks to disclose how many safety reports they get, and how they deal with those reports.

Chief executive Peter Wanless, said: “Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has a golden opportunity to put an end to the Wild West Web and force social networks to protect children online.

“Facebook has shown it is happy to use data for commercial purposes, but has failed to harness data in a way that can be used to prevent grooming.

“Facebook should be leading the way, but instead it has demonstrated time and again that self-regulation isn’t working and social networks can’t be left to mark their own homework.

“Mr Hancock could be the person who makes the internet a safer place, for every child now and in the future. We hope he seizes the chance to do that.”