Should Facebook Have a Panic Button?

When thinking about social networking sites and security issues, I always remember the unfortunate cases of girls that would meet guys online (or vice-versa), agree to meet with them in real life, and then go missing until their lifeless bodies get found days later. Tragic and scary, to say the least!

A couple of months ago, a 17-year old British student told her mother she was spending the night at a friend’s house and instead made plans to meet with a boy she met on Facebook. Unfortunately, the young girl never returned home, as  her teenage “date” turned out to be a 32-year old sex offender, who raped and murdered her. The monster (who goes by the name Peter Chapman) eventually confessed and was jailed for life in March this year.

In the wake of poor girl’s murder, her family was joined by British child-protection advocates in demanding that Facebook install a so-called panic button on its pages that would enable people to access information about Internet safety topics such as cyber-stalking and sexual abuse. “It’s like a burglar alarm on your house: It tells anyone coming into that environment to engage with you that you’re protected”, said Jim Gamble, the head of Britain’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center. According to a recent Times article, MySpace and Bebo already have panic buttons. So why isn’t Facebook following in their steps?

           

Facebook had previously said it would not install a “panic button” on its main pages, but would develop its existing system and would install links to organizations including CEOP on its reporting pages. Last week, Mr. Gamble announced the agency had received 252 complaints about Facebook during the first three months of the year-with 40 % of them about the potential grooming of children. Although Facebook has maintained that its abuse-reporting system is strong enough, the recent UK developments on the site’s existing system will allow members to report abuse directly to the CEOP instead of through Facebook’s internal system. In other words, when British Facebook users click on “Report/Block” person tab, a pop-up box will appear providing a link to the CEOP website.

“If the proposal is that we should put the button on every single page of the website, we’re quite clear that that isn’t the quick-fix solution that will actually make users of Facebook safer than they are today”, says Richard Allan, director of European public policy for Facebook. However, in the words of Mr. Gamble, “ if you’re going to operate a business that encourages people to frequent your public place so that you can advertise to them, then let’s look after them while they’re there”.

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As the saga continues, Facebook spokeswoman Debbie Frost said that the company will be donating ad space worth $7.7 million to cyber-safety groups over the next two years. Regardless of the initiatives taken both by the social networking sites and cyber-stalker protection, people first need to be EDUCATED about online safety. Raising awareness amongst Internet-users and ensuring that the safety lessons learned in real life be applied online is an absolute MUST and the initial step to over-coming and avoid tragic situations.

        

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4 Comments »

  1. When I read the article in The New York Times this past week relating to your topic, I immediately thought, ‘Yes! Why shouldn’t there be a panic button?’ I think children need all the protection they can get from the monsters that are in this world. Children are easy targets for the obvious reason of their age, which makes them very gullible. But also because of their curiosity of the internet; children, like adults want to feel loved and needed by peers and the internet has become a place where some go looking for that someone to satisfy that feeling. If they’re not getting the attention at home, they will seek it online.

    And why shouldn’t the panic button link up to a government agency (like the Britain’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center) instead of Facebook? I say take out the middle man which can save precious time, like in cases of missing children and sex offenders. I also think that parents need to keep communicating with their children about the danger lurking on the internet. Parents need to educate their children about the exciting opportunities the World Wide Web has brought to our lives but that there are people in the real world who use this virtual world to harm others.

  2. Peter Moran Said:

    Although a “panic-button” is a good idea, I’m not sure how this feature could have prevented the incident with the young girl who was raped an murdered (unless I’m completely misunderstanding how it works). She obviously never suspected anything was amiss with the “friend” she had met on Facebook and therefore wouldn’t have pressed a “panic-button.”

    The problem here isn’t that there were no resources available at the click of a button; the problem was the girl was duped. Education can help people learn how to avoid danger, but an individual walking trustingly and blindly into a set trap has almost no chance. This is a heart-breaking story.

  3. revealpr Said:

    I agree with Peter that the “panic-bottom” won’t necessarily protect children from abuse or other possible negative circumstances. Although there’s a lot of information about virtual safety on the Internet, teenagers don’t pay much attention to those recommendations. I truly believe that it’s parents’ responsibility to educate their children about the threats of social networking. Another option could be to find children’s “idols” or people they trust and whose opinion they value and make those people safety “ambassadors.” Merely sending out information won’t bring the desired influence on children because they won’t be open to receive that information.

  4. Brooke Fairey Said:

    I completely agree that everyone needs be educated about online safety. How do you feel about online sites for adults that are specifically geared toward dating? I have contemplated using these sites, and because I am an adult I would be careful about how I used these sites. I wouldn’t lie to anyone about where I was going or what I was doing with a guy I had met online, but I still question whether or not these sites are safe to use no matter how cautious I may be.


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