UK’s Misguided ‘Panic Button’ Request on Social Networking Sites

The head of UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has once again called for a special button to be placed on social networking sites that would allow youth to report online abuse directly to law enforcement.

This proposal is as ill-advised today as it was 4-5 years ago when Jim Gamble, head of CEOP, last pushed for this functionality.

Here’s why:

  • Social networking services already have easily discoverable report abuse functionality– as do most other types of consumer-interactive services. The exclusive focus on social networking sites as the source of potential exploitation is as absurd as it is naïve.  
  • Most of what is reported through report abuse functionality is not criminal and should not go to law enforcement. Do you want a spat between your child and another to be put in law enforcements hands?

Furthermore, sifting through the non-criminal reports – which are the vast majority – is a very poor use of law enforcement time and taxpayers money.

  • Reporting directly to law enforcement – or any other entity – means Internet services cannot respond to issues. This proposal would result in a situation where the companies won’t even know a problem exists and ruins their ability to appropriately moderate and manage their services – which is the real goal here.
  • Dual reporting – where the information is sent both to law enforcement and the service creates a mess. There needs to be a single chain of ownership or work will be duplicated, contradicted, or fall between the cracks.

The right approach is to ensure that companies’ own abuse reporting infrastructure has proper escalation paths to appropriately address non-criminal matters within the service, and to bring criminal matters to law enforcement agencies in a timely manner. If companies’ abuse handling processes do not escalate criminal issues to law enforcement in a timely fashion, this is where focus should be placed.

Linda

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