Under immense pressure, social networking site Facebook has refused to add safety buttons on each user's profile page saying that the buttons will only 'intimidate' and 'confuse' people.
A meeting was held between Facebook's chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, and Jim Gamble, the chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) on April 13, after the site was pressured by the UK Government and British parents, to amend its child safety strategy.
AdvertisementAfter a lengthy four-hour meeting, Facebook made the decision not to add the safety buttons, as it does not believe it is an effective way to encourage children to report abuse.
Facebook executives stopped short of adding a CEOP safety button to each user's profile page, but did announce a raft of new safety measures that it believes will be more effective in protecting children's safety online.
Instead of the button, UK users under the age of 19 will now be able to click on the 'Report abuse' link on each page and have the option to report the abuse directly to CEOP as well as to Facebook employees.
"We completely accept that our users should be able to report abuse directly to CEOP but we disagree on the best design solution to implement that," the Telegraph quoted Richard Allan, Facebook's director of policy for Europe, as saying.
"From our experience big graphics of 'buttons' produce less good results - in terms of people actually reporting abuse. They intimidate and confuse people.
"We think our simple text link, which gives people the option to report abuse to CEOP as well as to the Facebook team, is a far more effective solution," he stated.
The integration of the CEOP reporting option has gone live with immediate effect and Facebook has chosen to integrate the CEOP button into its 'Safety and Help Centre' - as it believes the button makes "good sense" in that context.
The button, a large graphic, provides quick access to 10 sources of help depending on the type of bullying.
For instance, if a child has been bullied online but does not want to report it to the police, they will be directed to ChildLine. Users can also find details of their local police station or contact a CEOP officer for more advice.
CEOP says the button, which is also live on Microsoft's MSN chat and several school websites, receives 10,000 clicks a month and has resulted in over 5,000 criminal investigations.
Gamble, revealed last week that British police officers have seen the number of complaints of alleged grooming and bullying on Facebook almost quadruple this year.
Moreover he disclosed that Facebook's own safety 'checkers', who insist they have a secure internal system, had failed to report a single alleged paedophile to police themselves.
A total of 252 Facebook complaints were made to police in the past three months - at almost quadruple the rate of complaints last year, when 292 were received in 12 months.
Gamble said that none of these complaints came directly from Facebook.
However, Allan said that the reason Facebook had not reported any abuse to CEOP direct was because it is a US based business and all UK abuse reports go straight to CEOP's US counterpart, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which it then passes onto CEOP.
This is because it is legally mandated to follow this procedure, as it stores all data in the US.
Facebook is currently looking at changing this procedure and move towards contacting CEOP directly with UK-based reports of abuse.
Facebook also announced the creation of a new global 24-hour police hotline, which will be manned by Facebook and agency staff. Two call centres already exist in Palo Alto in San Francisco (where Facebook is head-quartered) and Dublin, Ireland.
Speaking at the meeting, Gamble said Facebook is "one small step from doing the right thing" but its representatives had not agreed to his demands outright.
Gamble said he was "disappointed" the website could not produce any cases where they had intervened to protect a child and told police.
"What I am pleased about is there is a commitment from them to improve what they provide to UK policing," he said.
"Given that and the positive nature of it and their commitment to working much more closely with us, I still remain of the same view that the button is key.
"I felt that at the end of what were lengthy and at times tense negotiation we are able to move towards a position. They are one small step away from doing the right thing.
"I am more optimistic than when I came. They are not saying no, that is very clear. But they were equally direct and they came with their own agenda.
"There is no doubt they are looking to improve their position around child safety and we recognise that. What I am looking for is turning words into action," he said.
Additionally Facebook announced a five million pound investment in education and awareness relating to child safety online.
Over the next two years it will donate one billion advertising impressions across Facebook to leading safety organisations in order to help them raise awareness about how children can stay safe online.
It has also redesigned its 'Safety Centre' adding additional resources for parents, teachers, teens and police to explain Facebook's tools for using the service safely.
Facebook has resisted Government calls from the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, to add the panic button to each user's profile page; instead opting until now to put a link to the CEOP homepage in the site's Safety Centre.
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