Child pornography, ISIS decapitations, Nazi propaganda shared in kids' WhatsApp groups

Teenagers using their smartphones on a bench in Amsterdam
Teenagers using their smartphones on a bench in AmsterdamPhoto: BiruteDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

School kids in the Netherlands share quite shocking images on their WhatsApp groups, RTL Nieuws found by gaining access to dozens of these groups. The researchers found child pornography, revenge porn, videos of ISIS decapitations, racist- and anti-Semitic images, and Nazi propaganda commonly shared on these groups. 

The broadcaster gained access to dozens of these groups, containing children between the ages of 12 and 16. The groups often have hundreds of members, sharing thousands of messages every day. 

Violent videos are popular sharing material on these WhatsApp groups, according to RTL. Videos showing ISIS terrorists beheading people, Boko Haram massacres, assassinations in Mexico. The images are usually of high quality.

The children also frequently distribute revenge porn, sometimes sharing nude photos or videos of a classmate, but more commonly of random boys and girls. A photo of a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide in 2017 after a girl posted his nude photo on Instagram is also regularly shared within the WhatsApp groups. 

Stickers are extremely popular in these groups, as users can create and share stickers themselves without the stickers ending up in their phone's photo gallery. The stickers are often used to bully others. For example, RTL came across a photo of a girl with sexist text and her cellphone number. Antisemitic, racist and Nazi stickers are also popular. Another popular category of stickers are pictures of deceased or murdered children and young people, including Anne Faber and Nicky Verstappen.

Perhaps most worryingly is the amount of child pornography shared in some of these groups, according to the broadcaster. Among other things, RTL researchers came across images of a toddler being abused by an older man. 

It often happens that children receive child pornography through such a WhatsApp group, said Nanet Janssen of Bureau Halt - the department that handles simple juvenile crimes outside criminal law. Most young people who come into contact with the police for the first time end up being referred to Halt. Janssen regularly talks to teens who sent child pornography to others. She explains to them that doing so is punishable, and explains the impact it has on the victims. "Receiving the images is not immediately punishable, because you cannot do anything about it", Janssen said to RTL. "But it becomes punishable after forwarding, showing it to someone else, or keeping the video in your possession."

According to Michiel Kalverda, who teaches media literacy to young people, these WhatsApp groups are ultimately about wanting to belong. "When four children in the classroom giggle about something, you want to know what they are talking about", he explained. The same goes for these groups. "To be allowed to be in such a group, you have to prove yourself. If images of a corpse are shared 15 times, you want to surpass that. And so the shock value is quickly raised."

Kalverda called this typical adolescent behavior - pushing the boundaries. He described WhatsApp as the new schoolyard. "It is now the experience world of teenagers. Where you used to exchange shocking pictures in the schoolyard, teenagers now do so on WhatsApp.