Danny Rogers: Facebook needs to act on child protection

Facebook's continued resistance - at the time of writing - to putting a 'panic button' on its site to deter the exploitation of children is, in my view, a reputational own goal.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) is asking Facebook to put a link on every page of the website, in common with other social networking sites popular with children.

But Richard Allan, Facebook's head of policy in Europe, claimed the site was already one of the 'safest places on the internet'. He suggested - in a meeting in Washington DC this week - that an existing link allowing users to report abuse will in future enable a report to be made to CEOP.

While it is encouraging that Facebook is taking the issue seriously, its perceived resistance to a respected and vitally important body protecting children makes the world's most popular networking site appear irresponsible.

CEOP says it has received hundreds of complaints about incidents of child grooming that have taken place via Facebook. And there was the high-profile case of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall, whose murderer groomed her via the site.

Add to this recent stories about prison inmates taunting their victims via the site, and a consensus begins to form of a medium lacking in both control and morality.

This is not necessarily true and one is not suggesting that Facebook forms policy on a tabloid whim.

But, as Google has realised in recent years, Facebook's success and brand status mean that it now needs to start acting less like an enterprise at the frontier of new media and more like an established media channel, with all the responsibility that entails.

Social networking has transformed the lives of this generation of children. The time they are spending on these sites is tantamount to playing for hours with their friends in parks and public places - and yet their protection while online is almost non-existent.

At the same time, the founders of these excellent new brands are banking millions. We are coming to the moment of a societal responsibility crunch.

If CEOP says, from its experience and research, that a panic button is the best way to protect children currently, then we must believe this to be the case.

Facebook's protest to the contrary implies it would find such a change inconvenient - or that it fears the wrong impression would be given of its social paradise.

Either way, it should think again.

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