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MPs Urge Facebook to Add Child Protection Button

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Harriet Harman says MPs are “taking action” to make Facebook adopt the UK’s CEOP online protection scheme for children – although the site has argued it is not needed

Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman told the house of Commons that ministers would be urging Facebook to adopt a child protection button designed for the UK – even though Facebook argues that it would be counter productive.

“We need swift action on this,” said Ms Harman, when an MP raised the question of Facebook during questions on future Commons business, according to a Press Association report.  Labour’s Madeline Moon asked Ms Harman whether the government can “ensure that Facebook uses the CEOP alert”- a button which allows children to report suspicious activity directly to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP), which was promoted in a government online safty campaign last month.

“I would strongly agree with you and this is the view of ministers as well, not least the Home Secretary (Alan Johnson). Action is being taken in this respect,” Ms Harman said – clearly implying that ministers would be getting in touch with Facebook to urge the use of the CEOP button.

Although the button has been adopted by online sites Bebo and others, Facebook argues that it is a UK-centric tool which would not work well alongside the reporting buttons it already has:  “The safety of Facebook users is our top priority,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We have reporting buttons on every page and continue to invest heavily in creating the most robust reporting system to support our 400 million users. We work closely with police forces in the UK and around the world and have trained staff on two continents giving 24 hour support in 70 languages.”

The site has maintained this stance since November, when it told the BBC that such buttons have actually proved ineffective when it tried them in the past, actually decreasing the number of abuse reports.

The issue of children’s safety online has been in the spotlight over the past week, after Peter Chapman (33) was convicted for murdering 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall. Chapman had got in touch with Hall via Facebook, leading to criticisms from some senior police officers over the dangers of social networking sites.

This was closely followed by allegations from the Daily Mail that teenagers on Facebook were approached “in seconds” by men asking for sexual favours. The allegation was withdrawn, but Facebook is considering suing the Daily Mail.

The Home Secretary is quoted in another Daily Mail article as saying that he “can’t see any reason why” the site does not have the Ceop button – the lack of which is “putting children at risk” according to the Mail.

Facebook has faced criticism from several directions about its attitude to online protection. Its founder Mark Zuckerberg suggested that users do not expecct privacy in online services.

On a smaller scale, some users have expressed doubts about the value of Facebook’s social interaction, prompting some religious users to “give up Facebook for Lent“.

  1. If the previous comment is anything to judge faceboook members on, maybe they should add a “learn to type” button. I mean, really, what happened to punctuation?

  2. I do share your irritation Tron, but things may not be that simple.

    Apparently research done at Coventry University shows that people who use “textism” do better at normal literacy.

    Admittedly, the research was about spelling, not punctuation (and I happen to think inability with punctuation is a much worse handicap than spelling).

    Peter Judge
    UK Editor, eWEEK Europe

  3. MPs who do not understand the Internet shouldn’t try to control it. I sure hope they try shutting down Google next because children can search for pictures of knives.

  4. It seems silly for the government to go after content providers on a site-by-site basis: A waste of time and taxpayer money. If the UK wants to make the CEOP button work and be available when needed, it would be better to get the browser makers to build it in for UK versions. That way, it would be available for EVERY site and MP’s can turn their attention to other problems.

  5. There’s literally nothing that this button will do to protect children from being murdered. I don’t know why this is even considered a reason. Yes, a future murderer got in contact with victim… but you could litter the internet AND all streets with buttons, you’d still not know that person would murder someone IN THE FUTURE.

    Also, parenting isn’t done by letting the sum of all parents and children that might press that button decide what is appropriate. That, in fact, is more like tyranny- even when its a kid.

  6. Once again it is a case of where someone with power has no clue how to use the internet and its resources and is scared by it. Useless if you are worried by such things then dont join such sites. It is quite simple.

    Lets all have buttons on our jackets too for every time a stranger gives us a weird look to alert the local police.

  7. The CEOP button would be a continual reminder that everything you ‘do’ on the web is scrutinized, at multiple levels, by multiple interests. I liked Zuckerberg’s self-serving comment about the privacy expectations. “…users do not expect privacy in online services.” First of all, how would he know? Additionally, if no one expects privacy, then Facebook can aggregate and sell any and all information its users pump into their accounts. (Check their so-called ‘Privacy Policy’ – The one subject to change without notice.) Web privacy may be a myth, but we’ve been encouraged to believe otherwise, and Facebook’s business model could be jeopardized by any real requirement of privacy.

  8. Facebook as it stands is a global website. As the company correctly says this will only work in the UK. I’m also willing to bet that due to all the various legal systems in countries it operates Facebook itself has better checks in place than the Labour government known for knee-jerk reactions.