Law enforcement officers have been warning BBC Trending radio about a growing number of social media accounts wrongly purporting to be teen idols like Harry Styles and Justin Bieber, speaking inappropriately to young children.
“Identity assumption by child sex offenders is increasing quite steadily,” Detective Inspector Jon Rouse, who runs task force Argos, a specialist branch responsible for tackling online child exploitation in Queensland, Australia, told us.
Detective Inspector Rouse led a recent investigation that led to a 42-year-old man, who allegedly posed as Canadian singer Justin Bieber on a number of social media platforms in order to gain indecent images of children, being charged with more than 900 child sex offences.
“The fact that so many children across the world could believe that they were talking to Justin Bieber, and that Justin Bieber would make them do the things that they did, is really quite concerning,” he says, “I think a re-evaluation of the way we educate children about safe online behaviour is really needed.”
One mother of an 8-year-old girl, who has asked to remain anonymous, told BBC Trending that her daughter had downloaded a popular social media app for just two days before she was approached by an account impersonating a celebrity.
“The first message was inviting you to enter a competition and to win it you get a five minute chat (with the celebrity),” she says.
“And then the second message that came up was along the lines of ‘all you need to do is send me a photo of you naked or of your vagina.’ And then all these messages flew across the screen.
“Then the third message said ‘don’t worry about it. All the girls are sending me these photos. Just do it. It’ll be our secret’. And then the last message was ‘do it now’.”