Paedophiles are using cheese and pizza emojis to communicate secretly on Instagram, a child protection activist has revealed.
The bright yellow cheese symbol means little girl while the pepperoni-covered pizza means girl. Together they spell out ‘CP’, meaning ‘child pornography’.
‘The minute you start talking about pizza and cheese everyone thinks you’re talking about pizzagate,’ said London-based campaigner India, who has asked to be identified by just her first name. ‘But there are thousands of accounts which openly use this in their bios on Instagram.’
The accounts will use the emojis on their posts to signal that they are sharing sexualised images of children in a bid to evade being detected. India said thousands of accounts have been identified doing this.
More than 2,000 accounts have already been shut down by Instagram, after they were flagged via her Instagram page @PD_Protect, but India and her 7,000 supporters have already identified 5,000 more.
The Instagram emojis have been used to identify thousands of potential paedophile accounts
India, from London, set up this campaign to identify and report the explicit accounts. She is also calling for Instagram to change its reporting tool
Speaking to MailOnline, she explained how pictures were being screenshotted from parents’ social media pages and shared via social media in paedophile networks.
‘One lady I spoke to said she was contacted by a complete stranger on Facebook who was notified of this Russian paedophile website – she was in a sort of mum’s chat, about her daughter,’ she said.
‘They had taken a picture of her 18-month-old daughter crawling on the floor, edited it to make the baby look like it was wearing make-up and posted it on this Russian website.
‘The comments, I can’t even say what they were, they were so disgusting.’
Some accounts sharing child pornography post pictures of children wearing very little in paddling pools or on the beach, which appear to have been lifted from family social media accounts.
Others do not post but have a cheese and pizza in their description, and advertise that they sell child porn.
And a third type appears like a normal account until a user looks at who they are following and what pictures they are commenting on.
The accounts share pictures that have been screenshotted from parents’ social media profiles
How to protect your Instagram account
If you are concerned pictures of yourself or your children may be grabbed from your Instagram account, there are several steps you can take to keep it secure.
‘There’s a lot of things parents can do that are really simple,’ India said.
- Make sure your account is set to private – This will ensure that only people that follow you have access to your account
- Check your followers – make sure you know everyone following your account.
- Think about what you post – It is also recommended that you consider what sort of images of your children you post on social media.
They also connect on the platform using hashtags, she said.
Once linked the accounts then move to other websites such as MEGA link, a cloud-based encryption service, and Telegram, which was created before Whatsapp became an encrypted service, to trade, view and share images of children.
Accounts that tend to be most at risk are legitimate ones of dancers, gymnasts and child models – as they are open to the public.
‘They have got thousands and thousands of followers,’ said India. ‘They have DM for collaborations. These are the accounts that have to be watched.
‘I go through the followers on these accounts and I find several accounts that are questionable every time without fail.’
India’s campaign contacts Instagram directly about these suspected paedophile accounts to get them taken down.
‘We’ve just sent a list of another 5,000 to them,’ she said.
‘I made it clear to them right from the start I’m trying to work with them, not against them. They are actually working with us for now.’
As well as removing the accounts India has asked them to generate a totally new function which will allow users to report the bio of accounts that do not post.
‘We need to cover all the bases with the accounts we are seeing,’ she said.
When an account is removed, however, India says she sometimes gets contacted by its original owner.
‘These people are brazen,’ she said. ‘They tell me “I don’t know why you’re trying to take me down, because I’ll just set up another one and go back”.’
India’s campaign has already reported another 5,000 accounts to Instagram, and is on the look-out for more
She said she was motivated to get involved in the issue, which now takes up more time than her day job, after a friend shared a screenshot on her story.
It showed that a picture of her child had been taken by a suspected paedophile account, and called on her followers to report it.
‘I couldn’t morally just stand back, report it once, and walk away,’ she said.
Vaishnavi J, Head of Safety at Instagram, told the Telegraph: ‘Any content that endangers children is abhorrent and we’re committed to doing everything we canto keep it off our apps.
‘We remove accounts that share or solicit this type of content and report them to the police. We also use technology that’s constantly improving to find and remove known child exploitation imagery.
‘We’ve been working with India to investigate and remove the accounts she’s identified and we’re grateful for her help.’