This is the strange and often sinister world of Live.me, the new chart-topping social networking app that has become a huge hit with children and teenagers in Britain.
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We revealed that almost 200 paedophiles were arrested in just one week for the specific offence of grooming children, some still of primary-school age, via live-streaming apps including
In what is becoming an increasingly common tactic, the abusers posed as children to lure their victims into trusting them before asking leading sexual questions, urging them to act provocatively, or to take off their clothes — often with the promise of a reward.
But my 13-year-old son and his friends idolise him.
Middleton and countless others like him (another hugely popular and well-paid group are The Sidemen, who focus on computer football games and who regularly fill Wembley with crowds of enthusiastic fans) have spawned armies of wannabes who are very open to sharing their lives online.
Viewers are able to send typed messages and tip the ‘broadcasters’ with virtual gifts that they buy through the app.
When the broadcasters have collected at least 40,000 of these ‘gifts’, they can ‘cash out’ — exchanging the virtual gifts for real money.
The site insists it is only for those aged 13 and over — but no proof of age is required to join.
It takes just seconds to register an account, after which users can start broadcasting their own live videos — known as ‘live streaming’ — or watch others doing the same.
Their questions and comments flash up as text at the bottom of the screen.‘I’m getting melty when I look at your magical eyes,’ says one typed comment, to which she replies by talking directly to the camera: ‘Thank you, I love you too.’Another: ‘Any guy would be lucky to have you’; ‘Do you have a boyfriend? One follower, named ‘lover boy’, calls her ‘sweet, sexy, lovable’ in a written comment that appears on her screen.
’‘No,’ she says, in a clipped Home Counties accent. In Newcastle, a youngster dressed in black with a pierced nose has her face pressed up close to the screen. ‘Some bloke wants to see my feet,’ she says to the camera.‘Pervert,’ shouts another young voice, belonging to someone out of shot.‘Oh man, that is so gross,’ the girl says, sticking out her tongue to reveal several piercings.
It is this situation, combined with the natural desire of the young to be in within their peer group, and the lure of easy fame and money, that makes live-streaming so popular — and such a fertile hunting-ground for those with less-than-innocent intentions.