Facebook has been accused by police of “arrogantly” ignoring children’s safety after it emerged that the number of complaints of alleged grooming and bullying on the site have almost quadrupled this year
Jim Gamble, the senior policeman responsible for child protection online, said that officers have seen a significant increase in complaints from parents and children reporting alleged paedophiles, bullies and hackers who are exploiting the site. But he disclosed that Facebook’s own checkers, who insist they have a secure internal system, had failed to report a single alleged paedophile to police themselves.
Mr Gamble said he had “real concerns” about the internet giant’s work to protect children and condemned their refusal to embed a “panic” button to each user’s profile page, which he claimed would deter paedophiles and protect children. Speaking in London yesterday, Mr Gamble, who leads the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), said the button was used on other sites and backed by campaigners, expert online groups and charities such as Childline. He said: “Is Facebook so arrogant that it does not mind what the collective child protection community think?
“They are experts commercially, but I do not see them as being experts in child protection. “What Facebook do not understand is prevention, and acting as a deterrent.” Mr Gamble is flying to Washington DC on Monday where he will present a “dossier” of evidence to Facebook bosses. “We are going to tell them to do the right thing for child protection,” he said.
Speaking about social networking website in general, Mr Gamble added: “They need to make some decisions. Do they want to be the website of choice for bullies, for dangerous individuals, for rapists and murderers?” 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. Mr Gamble said: “None of these complaints came direct from Facebook. “If their system is so robust and they are receiving so many reports and concerns from young people, then where are they?”
Facebook has more than 400m users worldwide and recently overtook Google as the most visited website in the US. It continues to grow rapidly – attracting 23 million new users in January. The issue of its safety came to a head last month following the conviction of a serial rapist for the murder of schoolgirl Ashleigh Hall. Peter Chapman posed as a young boy on the site to lure the 17-year-old to her death in Sedgefield, County Durham. A spokesman for Facebook said: “We take the issue of safety very seriously, and recently met the Home Secretary to discuss online safety. “We are due to meet with Ceop next week to talk them through our safety strategy. We will wait to have this meeting prior to sharing our plans more widely with the public soon afterwards.”