Twitter has been condemned for failing to act following the discovery of hundreds accounts which openly discuss the promotion and defending of paedophilia.

An investigation by the Sun found a disturbing number of accounts on the social network – many of which have a cartoon as their main profile photo – openly discussing their sexual attraction to children.

The accounts defend themselves by saying they are "anti-contact" and "non-offending" and that they are not dangerous to children in the same way as child molesters.

The community also claim they are attempting to raise awareness for what they refer to as minor-attracted persons (MAPs) who do not abuse children psychically but admit an attraction.

They also compare paedophilia to being gay or bisexual because it is a sexual orientation that they claim they did not choose but were born with.

Twitter has been criticised for not suspending the accounts as they are not committing any crime.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper told The Sun: "This is very disturbing. How does this fit with Twitter's community standards?

"Twitter should not be allowing accounts that defend or normalise the sexualisation of children. They can't just shrug their shoulders and pretend it's none of their business."

Kath Stipala, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: "Child abusers are manipulative. Twitter has been woeful. It needs to get a grip"

The accounts are said to have been shown to the National Crime Agency, but police requested they do not block any of them so they can continue to monitor the posts.

Twitter said they remove people from the site if they share content "promoting child sexual exploitation" under the terms and conditions of the site.

"We do not tolerate child sexual exploitation on Twitter. When we are made aware of links to images of or content promoting child sexual exploitation they will be removed from the site without further notice and reported to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)," the company stated.

"We permanently suspend accounts promoting or containing updates with links to child sexual exploitation. If you think you've found a Twitter account distributing or promoting child sexual exploitation while using Twitter, report it here.

"Please provide the username and links to the relevant tweets that lead you to believe the account should be investigated."