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Facebook a 'real concern' says online child protection head

Facebook has not passed a single complaint about suspected paedophiles grooming vulnerable child users to police, the head of an organisation safeguarding youngsters online said yesterday.

Jim Gamble, who heads the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), said he had "real concerns" about the social networking site's work to protect children. He challenged the company to reveal evidence that its staff are working to disrupt devious criminals and bullies who lurk online.

Mr Gamble said investigators received 252 complaints about sexual grooming, bullying and hacking from Facebook users in the first three months of this year, but none of these had been provided by the company itself. His comments are the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter feud over Facebook's refusal to add a "panic" button to its site's most popular pages. Ceop wants the button, which enables users to report abuse, to be given prominent use.

Mr Gamble was speaking ahead of his crunch meeting with Facebook bosses in Washington DC on Monday, where he will call for them to break the deadlock. "Facebook say their system is robust and we have no reason not to believe them," he said yesterday. "Our reports are increasing monthly. In the first quarter of this year we have had 252 complaints about Facebook. None came direct from Facebook. If their system is so robust and they are receiving so many reports and concerns from young people, then where are they?"

He added that the number of reports linked to Facebook is soaring, with the latest number of complaints almost equalling the 297 received in 2009. He said the company was good at removing pornography and obscene content, as it is required to do so by law in the US.

"I believe Facebook confuse their approach to content with their approach to behaviour and that is the root of the problem," he said. "That is where predators go online, engage the young and vulnerable, and lure them offline where they can abuse them. In many cases young people in the online environment are bullied to the point of suicide."

Ceop receives up to 800 reports every month from internet users who suspect others of grooming, bullying, fraud or other crimes. Of 252 complaints about Facebook between January and March, two in five related to sexual grooming.