Facebook 'one small step from doing right thing' on child safety

Click to follow
The Independent Tech

Facebook today responded to calls to step up online security by announcing a raft of new measures to "transform social networking safety".

The move means fans of the site will be able to report any unwanted or suspicious behaviour directly to child protection organisations.



Responding to mounting pressure from the Government and parents to protect its 23 million British users, it has now redesigned its abuse reporting system so users can alert the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) to any unwanted or inappropriate contact.



Managers have also agreed to establish a new 24-hour police hotline, dedicated to helping with emergencies, investigations and prosecutions.



The internet giant has been roundly criticised for defying calls to install a "panic" button on the networking site, and chiefs were yesterday urged to "turn words into action" following a four-hour showdown meeting in Washington DC with Jim Gamble, Britain's most senior official responsible for protecting youngsters online.



Though Mr Gamble said Facebook had not not agreed to his demands outright, he acknowledged the popular social networking destination was "one small step from doing the right thing".



Safety experts today hailed Facebook's new measures, which are designed to give individuals greater control of their online safety.



Independent child protection expert Mark Williams-Thomas termed the move a "considerable step forward in online safety" while Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, said the site was taking "a thoughtful, proactive approach to safety on the web".



"Today's announcement by Facebook is a considerable step forward in online safety," Mr Williams-Thomas said.



"A co-ordinated approach providing the additional reporting to Ceop is clearly worthwhile, as is a dedicated phone line for law enforcement.



"I firmly believe that education is key to keeping children and young people safe online and social networking sites need to show a commitment to work with both statutory and voluntary organisation to promote safety on the internet."



The new safety measures provided by Facebook will include a "safety centre" to supply parents, teachers, teenagers and police with improved resources.



To back up the series of initiatives, the site will invest another £5 million in education and awareness.



It will also provide safety organisations with one billion advertisements on the site over the next two years to ensure users know what to do if they feel threatened.



Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Global Communications and Public Policy at Facebook, said there was "no single answer" to making the internet safer.



But he added: "The investments and partnerships we've announced today - in direct reporting, in education and awareness, and in greater support for law enforcement - will transform social networking safety and security.



"They represent the most comprehensive public/private safety initiative since social networking began in the UK almost a decade ago."



The company has now called on the Government to consider new ways in which to share information about registered sex offenders securely with social networks.



They believe this could help prevent dangerous individuals from accessing their services.



Mr Gamble, who leads Ceop, met with senior figures at Facebook amid an increasingly bitter and public feud over the site's refusal to add the "panic" button to its most popular pages.



He said the button, which has cross-party political support in Britain and is backed by leading child and anti-bullying charities, should be given prominent use.



Last week, Mr Gamble revealed Facebook has never passed a concern to British police and that complaints about the site are spiralling.



The issue was thrust into the headlines last month following the conviction of serial rapist Peter Chapman who posed as a young boy on the site and went on to murder schoolgirl Ashleigh Hall.

Comments