The protection of children is always a sensitive issue and a large responsibility, but the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre’s (CEOP) reaction to Facebook’s new safety measures shows to what extent self-righteous bureaucrats feel justified in spreading their remit. On top of a plethora of privacy settings, Facebook have decided to tackle internet predators with a £5m internet safety campaign, a 24 hour police hotline and the option to send information to CEOP when abuse is reported online. Nonetheless, the website has been attacked for refusing to install a ‘panic button’ on every user’s profile, which would give information to the quango directly. Facebook insists their research finds a single panic button would confuse and intimidate people, and be less effective in reporting abuse.
As a private company Facebook should not be coerced into fulfilling the egotistical aspirations of a quango, no matter how well intentioned; how they manage the threat of internet predators should be entirely up to them. The drive to remain popular and public concerns will no doubt mean that Facebook remains up to date when dealing with the ‘darker’ side of social networking such as grooming, bullying and exploitation. How they respond to this pressure should be their own choice. Also, many of my friends have had their birthdays changed, or obscene status updates posted as a result of prank. It seems obvious to me that a ‘this person is a pedophile’ button would be taken advantage of to cause mayhem, likely wasting police time.
Nevertheless, the CEOP have been supplementing their attack on Facebook with the ‘shocking’ fact that the website has never reported an alleged pedophile to the Police directly. This is because Facebook is compelled by US law to report cases to the American authorities, who then pass them on to the CEOP. This doesn’t stop the mighty child protectors targeting worried parents and schools. The issue at stake is not so much about Facebook’s safety controls, but the freedom of private organizations to develop, without being subject to the whims of government bodies.