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.
A teenage girl, just 14 according to her profile, sits in her kitchen in her blue school uniform. I need to go and do my homework.’Another British girl, 13, describes herself as ‘beautiful and sexy’.
She is filming herself on her smartphone, broadcasting live to an invisible audience of 100-plus strangers. It’s after school on a Wednesday afternoon, and she sits in her bedroom, brushing her hair and talking into the camera over the course of a few hours.
Bizarre as it may sound, to today’s generation of pre-teens and teenagers this represents perfectly normal social interaction.
They consume this kind of online video content much like we used to consume pop music as youngsters: obsessively and to the frustration of their parents and teachers.
But Friend, who received a four-year sentence, is just the tip of the iceberg.
On Tuesday, the Mail exposed the frightening scale of this problem.
Take Dan Middleton, for example, a former Tesco worker from Aldershot who yesterday was named by Forbes magazine as the world’s richest You Tuber.
In the past year, he has earned a staggering £12.3 million simply from filming himself playing online video games and broadcasting to his 16 million fans. I’ve seen his stuff: it’s like watching paint dry for me.
To an uninitiated, naive or inexperienced user — such as a child with their first smartphone, or a parent not au fait with the latest technology — it could easily be mistaken for a harmless environment in which to find new friends. Look more closely and you will find that many of the live streams feature very young girls dressing and behaving extremely provocatively, urged by their viewers to perform increasingly sexualised acts.