Social networking site Facebook has just announced the formation of the "Facebook Safety Advisory Board," a group of five Internet safety organizations that will council the company on all issues related to online safety. The board members will review Facebook's current safety-related procedures and documentation as well as make suggestions regarding best practices and other procedures. Although the company has sought council from many of the participating organizations in the past, this new board formalizes those relationships so Facebook can gather even more feedback as to how they can improve safety on their site.
Facebook is Determined Not to Go the MySpace Route
What killed MySpace? One could argue it was a combination of factors, but at the top of the list was spam, cyberbullying and sex offenders. A friend request from a pretty girl on MySpace was, at best, spam for an adult-oriented business and, at worst, an attempted virus attack. Cyberbullying, a crime that affected as many as a third of all teen Internet users as of 2007, became even more of a hot topic when a particular incident led to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl. And even though MySpace kicked out 90,000 registered sex offenders in February of this year, it wasn't actually good PR for the company; concerned parents were shocked there were that many in the first place. Meanwhile, MySpace visitor counts declined to the lowest levels ever this year.
Facebook is determined not to go the same route as its predecessor when it comes to online safety. From day one, the site has been more careful about who can join their network than MySpace ever was. Based on a "real-name" culture, Facebook users have to sign up with their real names, not their nicknames. They can't set up fake profiles, either. In addition, the company recently announced a series of privacy controls for its users, which will allow even more protections regarding what content is shared and with who. And as the Facebook press release noted, the company has been working to keep sex offenders off the site and has participated in various task forces and campaigns regarding online safety.
About the Global Advisory Board
With the formation of this new advisory board - which includes members from Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, WiredSafety, Childnet International and The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) - Facebook hopes to stretch their safety initiatives even further than before. The first task the board will address is an overhaul of the safety-related content hosted on the site's Help Center. Currently the page details Facebook's policies regarding safety, privacy and abuse, but the Q&A section only contains 12 questions. The overhaul will expand this one-page help center to become what the company describes as "a comprehensive resource with specific educational content for parents, teachers, and teens."
Future initiatives will involve addressing other safety and privacy concerns, especially those affecting young children. Facebook says it plans on meeting with the advisory board regularly. Hopefully, that means that Facebook will vet new features through the board prior to launching in order to avoid privacy disasters like the all-too-revealing Beacon advertising system of the past. However, the company will need to be careful about letting safety concerns stifle future innovation. Keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of users declared the Facebook News Feed, now one of the site's most valuable features, an invasive and unwanted breech of trust when it launched. What would the council have said about the News Feed? Make it opt-in only? That would have dramatically changed what Facebook is today, if so.
Still, Facebook today seems like a company that's smart enough to toe that thin line between between innovation and disaster, likely in part due to its missteps in the past. Meanwhile, the new advisory board should help the company sustain their continued growth by making sure that new users have the resources they need to feel safe and protected.