Home What’s a Little Cyberbullying Among Friends? Facebook Launches New Safety Center

What’s a Little Cyberbullying Among Friends? Facebook Launches New Safety Center

“Safety is Facebook’s top priority,” writes Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan on a company blog post introducing the social network’s new Safety Center, a revamped help portal featuring educational information for users, with sections dedicated to parents, teens, teachers and law enforcement professionals. It’s a somewhat ironic statement from a company that recently prompted its 400-plus million users to accept “recommended” changes that opened up their data – including status updates, photos, videos, links and friend lists – to a public audience, revealing details that many users assumed were private.

Around the same time as the “privacy debacle,” as we like to call it, unfolded, Facebook also announced a “Safety Advisory Board,” a group whose purpose is to review safety-related procedures and documentation as well as make suggestions regarding best practices and other procedures. How about this safe practice, Facebook: don’t publicize people’s private information?

Are we bitter about Facebook’s changes? OK, maybe a little. After all, many of us joined up with the network when it was in its fledgling stages. When it was a place to hide from mom and dad, not communicate with them. When you could complain about work in a status update and not worry that your boss or an HR department would see it.

Facebook Safety Center: Educating Users on How Facebook Did Them Wrong

But the world changed and Facebook changed with it, or at least that’s what CEO Mark Zuckerberg claims. The oversharers of the iGeneration have generally shrugged their shoulders at the threat of their private photos and updates having gone public. Their outrage? Practically non-existent. After all, this is the same group who grew up around sex offender scandals on MySpace, posted sexy “MySpace angles” photos mom and dad would be shocked to see, and who developed the trend of “sexting,” texting revealing pictures to their crush du jour. So their status updates are public? Who cares?, they think.

Ah, but they should. The publicizing of private data has led to a host of issues in its wake, including harassment and cyberbullying, to name a few. Cases of teens committing suicide after becoming victim to abuse via social networks have also occurred, unfortunately.

No one could argue that cyberbullying and the like could occur among groups of friends, whether or not Facebook remained a private network. It’s a valid contention – the dark underbelly of the human condition allows such behavior to exist, even amongst friends. But by exposing every little detail, photo and link to a user base that seems oblivious to the need of plugging the privacy holes, Facebook is simply allowing there to be more opportunity for someone to actually see the nasty comment made about them on a wall post… or the embarrassing photo of someone cheating on their boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse. It provides the fodder for the cyberbullies and the tools for those who seek to stalk, monitor or control another’s behavior. It provides more avenues for abuse.

At the very least, it should provide a few tools to the potential victims, too.

Safety Center: Q&A’s on Abuse Prevention, Reporting

That’s what the Safety Center is for, at least in part. With Q&A’s for how to deal with abuse, stalking, cyberbullying and unwanted wall posts, messages and chats, a good bit of the Center’s guidance is aimed at reporting and stopping this unwanted behavior. Even in other Safety Center sections outside of “safety for teens,” this information is essentially just rehashed for others, like parents and teachers, for example. (Teachers and law enforcement professionals get a few extra tips about Facebook, too, like how to maintain a professional presence or how to report a sex offender).

According to the Facebook blog post, the Safety Center’s overhaul now features quadruple the information as in the prior help center, plus a “cleaner, more navigable” interface. The launch is one of the first initiatives from the Facebook Advisory Board, a new coalition of members including Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely, WiredSafety, Childnet International and The Family Online Safety Institute. Together, the board members will “accelerate our efforts to make Facebook a better and safer place to engage,” notes Sullivan.

But Facebook already had an opportunity to make itself a safer place and they blew it. Private networks of friends and family sharing content amongst themselves doesn’t lead to as much harassment, abuse and victimization of its users beyond the typical family brawl or fight amongst friends. But when you can see anyone’s content – especially the stuff they thought was private – problems are going to occur. Facebook’s new Safety Center is the result of the company having to deal with the fallout from that choice.

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