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Facebook considers "panic button" for UK users

Apparently Facebook has come under increasing pressure from regulatory authorities in the UK, including top government minister Alan Johnson, to add a so-called "panic button" to its social networking site.

The mounting pressure comes in the wake of last year's rape and murder of Ashleigh Hall, a UK teen who was lured to her death by a man she befriended on Facebook. It turned out that the person she believed to be a teenage boy called Peter Cartwright was actually a 33-year-old serial sex offender named Peter Chapman.  

The panic button was originally introduced by the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP) back in 2006. The idea is to provide a universally recognized, one-click way for children to call for immediate help if they suspect they are in danger.

The CEOP button was quickly adopted by MSN and more recently by AOL's Bebo, another social networking platform popular in the UK. Since the original button was launched, some social networks have added additional links to services designed to help children avoid exploitation, bullying and other online threats.

Although it's conceded that a panic button wouldn't have saved Ashleigh, advocates of the online alert system believe it acts as a serious deterrent to predators and bullies, and provides a level of comfort to vulnerable children and concerned parents. CEOP specialist police teams report receiving over 500 alerts each month, with 4 or 5 a day indicating that a child could be in imminent danger.

Despite the progress made with the other social networks, the CEOP admits there is a big gap in coverage without Facebook in the fold. According to the CEOP, almost three-quarters of all reports they receive are in reference to activity on Facebook, with users having to go to other sites to report the potential abuse.

Facebook does offer an online Safety Center, which displays information and resources to help users report online threats. However, it can be hard to find and the CEOP claims it doesn't offer the same deterrent value.

Facebook and CEOP officials will meet again on April 12. If the panic button is added to Facebook pages in the UK, expect calls for a U.S. equivalent to follow soon after.

Do you believe so-called panic buttons will help make social networking sites safer? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!


Comment by Patti Mendoza, posted 3/21/2010, 2:47 PM:

I hope Facebook enrolls and start taking part of this great initiatives. And I hope parents don't let their guard down in a false sense of security, we should regardless of the security systems and alerts, educate our children to be aware of the dangers of the cyberspace and the do's and don't of online activity. And most importantly be involved!
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