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Facebook concedes to online safety demands

LONDON - Facebook has responded to concerns over online safety by allowing its UK users to directly report potential criminal activity to police and offering eight child protection bodies up to one billion free ad slots on its site.

The Facebook dialogue box with added CEOP link

The Facebook dialogue box with added CEOP link

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Facebook has been in the firing line in recent months over media reports of people using the social networking site to lure children into meeting them for sex.

It has also been under pressure from the head of the UK's online policing body, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, to pass on user complaints directly to it and introduce a prominent 'panic button' on the site.

The measures announced by Facebook today include giving its 23 million British users the ability to report suspicious activity directly to CEOP if they desire.

However, it stopped short of having a graphic 'panic button' prominent on user pages, saying it would initially display a 'button' in its Safety and Help centres and during the 'report user' process.

Facebook sought to move the debate on from the format of the button, claiming its overall response was about "providing a safety net, not just a safety button" and that its implementation was in line with other sites, such as Bebo, which CEOP holds up as good examples.

As part of its measures to tackle online predators Facebook has promised to staff a 24-hour hotline which police can call for help with emergencies, investigations and prosecutions.

The advertising space it has offered to donate to internet safety organisations is worth £5m over two years, though it is not clear yet whether any of the eight bodies invited to take part have accepted or when camapaigns would be launched.

A Facebook spokeswoman said it was still finalising which organisations it would approach and it would need to agree the best way to roll out ads for each one.

The offer consists of up to one billion ad messages over the period, "the equivalent of a million safety messages from experts in front of users every day", according to the company.

The bodies invited to take up Facebook's offer are:

  • The Government's ‘zip it, block it, flag it' digital code campaign
  • UKCCIS's new ‘Click Clever, Click Safe' campaign
  • Children's' Charities Coalition on Internet Safety
  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)
  • Childnet International
  • Beatbullying
  • The Family Online Safety Institute

Elliot Schrage, vice-president of global communications and public policy at Facebook, said: "The investments and partnerships we've announced today ... represent the most comprehensive public/private safety initiative since social networking began in the UK almost a decade ago."

The company also called on the government to look at how to share information about registered sex offenders securely with social networks, claiming it such a model has helped remove dangerous individuals in the US.

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