The director of a British child protection agency, Ceop, wants Facebook to install a “panic” button on every page, in order to give under-age users a means to report suspicious activity. The director, Jim Gamble, and the agency have a campaign on to convince Facebook to do something about a variety of issues children face on the site, including cyberbullying, “distressing material,” luring them into real-life meetings and other behaviors.
Jim Gamble, director of the Ceop (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) center, who previously mounted an anti-bullying campaign, feels the need for a panic button is even more of an urgent matter after the recent death of a 17 year-old user who was lured by a predator with past history. While Facebook executives have resisted pressure from the UK government, including the Prime Minister and Home Secretary, they are now willing to consider solutions, and will meet with Gamble in Washington, D.C.
While his intent is good, the Ceop director seems a bit naive in believing that the bulk of Facebook’s 400M+ users — most of whom are likely above 21 — would want to see a “Panic” button on every single page. If you’re of legal age, wouldn’t you find that disturbing and disconcerting to see, every time you browsed Facebook? Not seeing said button doesn’t mean we care about child safety any less, but there possibly other solutions. While cannot always protect children from experiencing or seeing things they shouldn’t on Facebook, there are some measures Facebook could take. Here are just a few:
- Educate more parents in the benefits and dangers of Facebook, so they’ll hopefully be compelled to monitor their minor children’s use of social networking sites. With more children spending considerable time online, it’s important that every parent knows as much about Facebook as they do about TV. Just take note that if you change your child’s Facebook password and post things about him/ her, it might get you sued.
- Use an age-based filter for displaying the “Panic” button that Ceop’s director wants “on every page” of Facebook. That means that if a user’s profile info shows that they are under the age of minority in a certain locale, they should automatically see the “Panic” button. Unfortunately, kids sometimes lie about their age when creating a Facebook account. It really falls on parents to monitor use. (Despite what some people say, that Facebook does not have a minimum age requirement, just try signing up a test account under a certain age — I’ve heard 13 — and you’ll get the message, “You are ineligible to register for Facebook.” I know several 10-12 year olds in my community who say they signed up for a Facebook account but admitted lying about their age to do so.)
- Use Wall status analyses to guess at age. This is a far more complex solution that would involve having algorithms in place to determine if the text of a Facebook user’s status updates suggests they are minors or at least within a certain age range that having a “Panic” button might benefit them. This is not something that could necessarily be implemented in a short time frame, without considerable research, but it is possible. (Note: Pete Warden’s now-destroyed Facebook user data set might have been partially useful in this regard.)
If you have minor children, do you let them use Facebook? What measures do you think Facebook should implement to help protect children using the site, whether or not the sign up with a fake age in their profile. Should the site placate Ceop’s director and install a “Panic” button on every page?