An investigation by STV News has revealed that pictures of Scottish children from eight different schools’ social media accounts have been stolen and posted alongside extreme abuse images of babies, children and teenagers on a Russian website described as a ‘meet-up for paedophiles’.
The anonymous users who lifted and posted the images boasted on the site about their attraction to children as young as nine years old. The stolen pictures show the pupils holding up award certificates revealing their names, which has sparked fears they could be tracked down.
The owners of the platform, which gets 20 million hits per month, posted a statement: “The site policy forbids child pornography being posted and, as a result, there is none of that on site unless something is uploaded between moderation sessions.
“As there is no child porn on site, the site itself can’t be a trading forum nor a paedophiles’ meeting place.”
Ethical hacker Sijmen Ruwhof, who identified those allegedly behind the site, said he was “shocked by the millions of images on the site”.
Describing the website, he said: “It’s kind of an underground website and it’s out in the open, and that’s the curious thing about this website. You don’t need to go on the dark web. You don’t need special software. It’s a child porn website hiding in plain sight.”
Police Scotland said that they are not investigating the situation as they have not received any complaints. Wellington School in Ayr, Glasgow Gaelic School, the city’s St Mungo’s Academy, Our Lady’s RC Primary in Perth, Stirling High School and nearby primaries St Ninian’s and Gargunnock are among the schools affected.
Dallas Primary in Forres, Moray, was also targeted, with one user who claims to “love girls under 13” pilfering images from the School’s public Twitter feed.
STV News said that, in under five minutes, it was able to identify and find the family of a pupil using only her first name, which was featured in a tweeted picture. A relative of the girl told STV News: “This is disturbing. I’m going to speak to the school.”
Joanna Murphy, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said: “It makes you feel sick to your stomach that somebody is looking at your children’s photos, for example of them winning a prize at school. We need to all be much more mindful about what we’re doing, what we’re sharing and how we’re sharing it.
“It’s not the fault of local authorities or schools or young people but we need to make sure it’s not happening as widely. I think there is a part to play for government to look into this.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Internet services and their regulation is a reserved matter and the Scottish Government is fully engaged in the UK Government’s current consultation on proposals to establish in law, a duty of care for service providers to their users as well as creating an independent regulator that will hold tech companies and providers of online services to account for tackling online harms.”
Moray Council’s acting education and social care director, Graham Jarvis, said: “It’s common practice for schools and parents to share pictures of their children to celebrate successes and activities, and it would be a great shame if the actions of a few depraved individuals prevented this.”
A Perth & Kinross Council spokeswoman said: “Unfortunately, as this situation exemplifies, there may always be individuals who wish to make entirely inappropriate use of images of children and young people.”
Wellington headmaster Simon Johnson said: “Like all independent schools, we have policies in place regarding the use of images and these are reviewed regularly.
“Indeed, the recent introduction of GDPR legislation prompted significant changes in exactly this area. The story that you are telling, of course, will help us to refine our thinking in the future.”