UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Technological Fixes – The Wrong Approach to Social Networks

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 April 2010

On the Panic Button: CEOP do an amazing job but digital literacy needs to be central driver in supporting young peoples online engagementtweeted Josie Fraser recently.  Josie was referring to the pressure CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) are putting on Facebook to add a CEOP Panic button on Facebook pages.

I have read that “The chief of the national anti-paedophile agency has launched another scathing attack on Facebook, branding its refusal to publish an official “panic button” on users’ profiles as “arrogant”.” The Guardian, I feel, has published a more measured commentary on this debate describing how “Facebook has responded to calls for increased online safety by announcing a range of new measures including a 24-hour police hotline, a £5m education and awareness campaign and a redesigned abuse reporting system” although it has still “declined to add a logo linking to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre“.

It would have been easy for Facebook to announce that it would be providing a CEOP panic button on its Web site – but would this have been the best approach. I fear that this would have been a one-off policy and technological fix.  The fix that has been proposes places CEOP in a central position to address its remit for “eradicating the sexual abuse of children” . But there are problems with the single centralised solution to problems.  CEOP’s remit is related to sexual abuse of children – which would seem to exclude issues such as bullying.  And since CEOP is a UK-based organisation its remit will no doubt be restricted to sexual abuse in a UK context and subject to not only UK laws but also political and social pressures, such as the campaigns we have already seen in non-technical contexts orchestrated by the tabloids.

I can already see headlines after the General Election “My Government has introduced legislation which requires social networking service to provide a panic button which allows cases of abuse of children to be reported to appropriate UK agencies” – whilst at the same time cutbacks in public sector funding  results in schools and libraries having to scale back on the work they are engaged in in supporting digital literacy for young children.

Having read Facebook’s recent press release on “Facebook and its Safety Advisory Board Launch Robust New Safety Center” I’m pleased to read that “Facebook also used the European Union’s Safer Social Networking Principles, a set of recommended best practices adopted by the social networking industry in consultation with the European Commission, to inform the new design“.  I’m also pleased to hear the comment that “There’s no single answer to making the Internet or Facebook safer“.

I suspect we won’t read comments such as “We’re encouraged to see Facebook taking a thoughtful, proactive approach to safety on the web” which was made by Stephen Balkam, the CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. That organisation does, of course, have vested interests as Stephen “Education is one of the four pillars of what we do at FOSI“. But for me an essential aspect of the debate centred around use of social networks by young people  is education around digital literacy – focussing the debate around a panic button solution is misguided, in my opinion. WHich is not to say that a reporting mechanism isn’t needed – but it shouldn’t hijack the debate.


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One Response to “Technological Fixes – The Wrong Approach to Social Networks”

  1. Brenda Boyd said

    The recent media hysteria about placing a panic button on Facebook seems to have been generated by the murder and/or abuse of a few young people groomed on-line by dissembling paedophiles pretending to be attractive young men themselves. These stories are awful and tragic for the young people involved and their families, friends and loved ones. However I fail to see how a panic button would have helped in those particular circumstances. They trusted that what they read and saw was true. They were not scared in any way (until it was too late). They would not have used a panic button had there been one available.
    Or am I being obtuse?

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