LONDON - Punishing web giants for failing to remove child sex abuse and other illegal content should spur firms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to tackle online exploitation of children more aggressively, anti-trafficking experts said on Wednesday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's ethics watchdog called on the government to introduce laws shifting the liability for racist, extremist and child sex abuse material onto web firms.
Internet companies who fail to monitor and take down such content should be prosecuted, according to the report by Britain's Committee on Standards in Public Life.
From Britain and the United States to India and the Philippines, a soaring number of children are being abused, trafficked and sold online, often via social media and classified advertising websites, anti-slavery campaigners say.
"Internet service providers, are increasingly finding their ... platforms as vulnerable mediums for exploitation and abuse," David Westlake, head of anti-slavery group International Justice Mission UK, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
During a recent week-long crackdown, British police arrested almost 200 people on suspicion of child sex crimes such as the live streaming of sex abuse, and saved 245 children from harm.
While there is no concrete data on the extent of online child sex abuse in Britain, 1,278 children suspected to have been trafficked were referred to the government last year, up 30 percent on 2015, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
"Abuse of children online and offline is a serious crime," said Bharti Patel of anti-child trafficking group ECPAT UK.
"Businesses providing internet platforms have a critical role to play, and should have a statutory duty to ensure children are safe when using their service," she added.
Twitter said in a statement it had cut abusive content and that, each day, it now acted on 10 times the number of abusive accounts compared to this time last year.
YouTube declined to comment, while Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
"There is a debate to be had about the extent of control companies should exercise over what is posted on their platforms," said Jakub Sobik of Anti-Slavery International.
"(But) they shouldn't just be able to sit back and allow content constituting child sexual abuse on their sites."
In the United States, laws to make it easier to penalize websites that facilitate online sex trafficking are gaining traction after major U.S. web firms dropped their opposition.