Facebook Gets “Panic Button” (But it’s Just an App)

Facebook now has a so-called “panic button” available on its site that allows users to report cyberbullying, hacking attempts, harmful content, unwanted sexual advances and other forms of abuse to the U.K.’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), the organization behind the button’s launch.

According to the BBC news, the launch is a victory that came about after months of negotiation between CEOP and the social networking site. Says Jim Gamble, CEOP’s chief executive: “Today… is a good day for child protection.”

Facebook Follows Bebo, MySpace in Launch of CEOP Tools

Gamble had turned the story about social networking panic buttons (and the lack thereof) into a bit of a media circus over the past several months. In November, he attacked both Facebook and MySpace after social networking site Bebo became the first to launch the CEOP button. Instead of focusing just on the benefits of the technology, Gamble was more intent on criticizing the competing sites for refusing to do the same. “They are creating a public space that attracts young people, children and adults, so they can make money through advertising. There is a responsibility, a duty of care, to the young and the vulnerable,” he was quoted as saying.

MySpace soon followed Bebo in accepting the button onto its site, but Facebook stood its ground. Shortly after Gamble’s public admonishment, a Facebook rep replied that it already had a robust reporting system in place and could do a better job by liaising with police itself. “We also work closely with police forces in the U.K. and around the world to create a safe environment. Our teams are manned by trained staff in two continents, giving 24-hour support in 70 languages,” a spokesman told U.K.-based news site The Register in late November.

Today CEOP is claiming victory, saying that Facebook is now supporting the button too. But is it? The CEOP button appears to be just another Facebook app – one the social network would have probably approved to begin with if the group had just asked nicely.

The BBC story on this launch reports that the new application integrates abuse reporting into both Facebook and CEOP’s systems, which means that the social network did at least somewhat concede to CEOP’s demands by permitting that level of access. Facebook will also promote the button to its youngest users by way of prominent advertisements. However, it will not be pre-installed for users.

Facebook, for what it’s worth, would prefer that you not call this app a “panic button.” It’s an optional download that also provides messages about how to stay safe in addition to its abuse-reporting features. Plus, its focus is obviously on U.K. teens, although anyone can install the app.

Does Facebook Need More Abuse-Reporting Options?

The real story here is not whether or not a button launched, whether it’s to be called a “panic button” or not, and so on. It’s whether or not the public feels comfortable enough with the job that Facebook is doing in protecting its youngest users from abuse. MySpace’s decline, after all, was in part due to the way that children were friending strangers in large numbers, many of whom turned out to be less-than-savory characters. Now given Facebook’s seemingly unstoppable growth – the site is nearing half a billion users – and its corporate belief that age of privacy is over, can Facebook also handle the cyber abuse that such a level of openness invites?

Facebook isn’t ignoring its duties here, though. Recently, it launched a revamped Safety Center with educational information for users and sections dedicated to parents, teens, teachers and law enforcement professionals. But for a network where personal privacy is no longer a given, it’s not surprising that some may think there’s a need for resources outside Facebook itself to handle the damages that this new “forced” openness will likely bring about.

Facebook Comments