Six Lines

Facebook and Protecting Children

Posted by Aaron Massey on 16 Jul 2010.

danah boyd posted recently about a Facebook app developed in the UK that allows children to report abusive or potentially abusive conduct:

The “Panic Button” is actually an App called “ClickCEOP”. Users must add the App and then they get a tab so that there’s a button there whenever they need to talk to the police’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. They’re encouraged to share the badge as a way of protecting their friends.

As danah points out, there are many questions:

[W]hat’s the likelihood that kids (or adults) will click on this as a joke or just to get attention? How is CEOP going to handle the joke clicks vs. the real ones? How will they discern? One thing you learn from dealing with helplines is that kids often call in to talk about their friends when they’re really looking for help for themselves. It’s easier to externalize first to test the waters. The CEOP may get prank messages that are real cries for help. What happens when those go unanswered?

Part of the reason that this is even news is that Facebook has been resistant to this effort. I agree with danah; Facebook didn’t resist because they don’t care about child safety. There’s a real misnomer in developing an application hyped to prevent all forms of child abuse with a single click of the mouse, which is why Facebook resisted. They understand that the underlying problems this application is meant to address are neither technical nor trivial. Child abuse and bullying preceded the Internet; a web app isn’t going to make them go away.

danah fears that Facebook’s (eventual) support of ClickCEOP will result in increased calls to create a similar save-the-children button in the US. Of course, this is already starting to happen. Any bets on how long it takes before this gets mindlessly deployed stateside?