New challenges for the Bulgarian hotline

  • Hotlines
  • 27/06/2018
  • Safenet.bg, the Bulgarian hotline

In the June 2018 edition of the BIK bulletin, we look at hotline trends and issues, hearing also from various members of the INHOPE hotline network. Here, we hear from the Bulgarian hotline on the significance of cooperation and information exchange in the hotline community.

The Bulgarian hotline (Safenet.bg, "Bulgarian Hotline for Fighting Illegal and Harmful for Children Content and Conduct on the Internet"), a member of INHOPE, was launched in 2006. In the decade or so that has followed, the online environment has significantly evolved. A recent national representative survey (1,000 child respondents in Bulgaria, 2016) found that almost all Bulgarian children aged 9-17 are internet users (97 per cent). The increased use of the internet, however, has also raised the exposure to risk, especially for students in higher grades. In 2016, 15 per cent of Bulgarian children experienced something online that bothered or upset them (up from 9 per cent in a 2010 survey). Most children do talk to family and friends when they experience something disturbing online, but a significant proportion of children (18 per cent in the 2016 survey) state that they made no mention of what they experienced to anybody (up from 4 per cent in 2010). This means that a great number of disturbing online incidents experienced by children in Bulgaria remain unreported.
 
Logo of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre
 
To address this issue, the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) has been training students aged 12 and 13 across the country to advise and help their peers who have faced a risk or an incident on the internet, and to raise awareness about internet safety among other children. In 2017, more than 242 "Cyberscouts" were trained in 12 cities in Bulgaria; in 2018, another 400 will be added to the national network. An important part of the training is when and how to report inappropriate content, contact or behaviour, and how to conduct events and initiatives to transfer this knowledge to peers. Both the hotline and the helpline receive reports and contacts either from Cyberscouts or their peers.
 
For a number of years the hotline dealt predominantly with child sexual abuse material (CSAM) hosted outside of the country. In the period 2006-2015, there were only two major cases of large quantities of CSAM hosted on local servers. From October 2006 to March 2018, a total of 15,118 reports were received, of which 4,747 were determined to be CSAM. Things changed drastically in 2017: in just one year, of 4,404 reports received, 4,096 were CSAM and 3,868 of them concerned material hosted in Bulgaria. This trend persisted in 2018 and one of the main causes of the sudden increase was the sophisticated crawling and tracing software by partner hotlines, as well as the increasing use of cloud services which also made Bulgaria a popular hosting country. However, the problem of national under-reporting is still significant and the 2017 numbers reveal that most of the 4,404 reports received and processed in 2017 did not come from the public in Bulgaria, but from partners including other national hotlines. This can be attributed to INHOPE's development and implementation of increasingly-sophisticated tools to trace CSAM around the world and exchange information.
 
While the new developments increased the burden both on the hotline staff and on the law enforcement agencies (LEA), good communication and the mutual trust built has helped deal with the reports in an efficient and productive way. As a result, in the last 12 months, more than a dozen perpetrators have been identified and arrested, and Bulgarian LEAs participated in a number of international operations against CSAM production and dissemination.
 
The experiences of the Bulgarian hotline have, once again, highlighted the crucial importance of global cooperation in the fight against child sexual exploitation online. The role of INHOPE and its collaboration with the international community cannot be underestimated. Without the cooperation and information exchange in the hotline community, the Bulgarian hotline would have found it challenging to handle the sudden increase of reports.
 
For further information, please see the INHOPE website or the Bulgarian hotline website.
 
Find out more about the work of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.

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