The recent relaxation in privacy settings (mentioned in part one of this article) come amid concerns over online bullying and exploitation of children. Peter Davies, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), said that half of all child sexual exploitation takes place on social networks and that more could be done to stop it.
He told MPs in the House of Commons: “It is not uncommon to encounter situations where offenders in one country will target and harvest victims in a completely different part of the world.”
“At the moment we are seeing half of this kind of activity, online child sexual exploitation, taking place through social networking sites” (The National Crime Agency CEOP Command’s 2013 Threat Assessment on Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse highlighted that 48.5% of online child sexual exploitation reports received were linked to social networking sites, of which Facebook is only one)
“Facebook is a major one but not the only one. We are also seeing it take place through chat environments and other forums. It is important to realise that the medium is not to blame, the medium might be managed better, so it is safer for its users.
“But what is to blame is human behaviour, albeit through the internet amplified, multiplied and in some cases almost industrialised to a quite remarkable degree.”
Mr Davies further stated that there are an estimated “50,000 people in the UK who commit offences at least to a level of possessing indecent mages of children…Victims are getting younger and younger and the level of abuse portrayed appears to be getting worse and worse”, with an estimated 300 million sexual images of children circulating the UK.
A Facebook spokesman said: “We fight hard against child sexual exploitation and grooming. People on Facebook have access to educational resources and powerful reporting tools so they can report inappropriate behaviour and get help in the unlikely event that they need it.
“We have a global team of hundreds of safety experts committed to protecting the people using Facebook — and are proud of the work we do in partnership with CEOP to bring offenders to justice.”
In addition to the possible risk of exploitation of children, there is a concern over so-called “cyber-bullying”, with a number of high profile cases being sadly reported over the last few years of children committing suicide due to online bullying.
Anthony Smythe, Managing Director of the campaign group Beatbullying, said that cyber bullying should in itself be made a criminal offence, as opposed to only being considered as a criminal offence under legislation such as the Protection from Harassment Act and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
Mr Smythe said: “I would like not only to see legislation around cyber-bullying but I would like legislation on bullying and cyber-bullying. A child will be bullied in the play ground and that will continue online, and we need to make that link.”
These are all grave concerns. Some may say extreme. But sadly, as the National Crime Agency state, “it is not the environments but offender behaviour that we need to concentrate on. Children need to know how to stay safe on all social networks and we work closely with Facebook and others to ensure these messages reach children and their parents and carers.”