Facebook called 'arrogant' in its approach to child safety

News 9 Apr, 2010

With complaints from users soaring, CEOP chief Jim Gamble says Facebook needs to accept it doesn't understand prevention or deterrence.

Facebook has been accused of arrogance and complacency in not passing on complaints about online paedophiles to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

According to the CEOP, it received a total of 252 complaints about possible illegal activity on the social networking site in the first three months of the year, nearly as many is in the whole of 2009. However, none of the complaints were passed on by Facebook itself.

CEOP's Jim Gamble said the soaring number of complaints raised “real concerns” over Facebook's ability to protect children using the site, especially in the light of its refusal to add a 'Click-CEOP' panic button to user pages as seen on many of its rivals, including Bebo and MSN.

“Is Facebook so arrogant that it does not matter what the collective child protection community think?” Gamble said. “Social networking websites need to make some decisions. Do you want to be a chosen site for rapists and murderers?”

Child safety on social networking sites was brought into sharp focus last month with the conviction of known sex offender Peter Chapman, who murdered 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall after posing as a teenage boy on Facebook.

However, despite insisting it was committed to addressing child safety concerns, Facebook said that in its experience, placing a button on every page could actually reduce the number of reports. Instead, it has restricted the Click- CEOP button to a separate reporting area.

But Gamble said, to date, Facebook hadn't once reported any suspicious or inappropriate behaviour to a UK police force. And with 40 per cent of the 252 complaints it had received independently related to paedophiles grooming children, Gamble said the social network's approach wasn't good enough.

“If their system is so robust and they are receiving so many reports and concerns from young people, then where are they?" he said.

“What Facebook does not understand is prevention or deterrence. They are experts commercially, but I do not see them as being experts in child protection. The sort of thing I'm talking about is a mother calling us and saying her daughter has been talking to someone on Facebook she is worried about and she's reported it to Facebook and there is no response."

“Facebook is confusing its approach to content with its approach to behaviour,” Gamble added. “That is where predators will go online, engage the young and vulnerable, and lure them offline where they can abuse them.”

Gamble is set to meet the site's representatives in the US next week, where he will present a “dossier” of evidence to Facebook's bosses. “We are going to tell them to do the right thing for child protection,” he said.

A Facebook spokesman downplayed the situation, saying: “We take the issue of safety very seriously, and recently met the Home Secretary to discuss online safety. We are due to meet with CEOP next week to talk them through our safety strategy."

They added: “We will wait to have this meeting prior to sharing our plans more widely with the public soon afterwards.”