Belfast Telegraph

How Facebook is an anti-social network for our young children

By Jane Graham

It sounds a drastic step - an Antrim father has issued a writ threatening to have Facebook's operations in Northern Ireland closed down unless the site deletes his daughter's account. But the case highlights serious concerns many parents have regarding the endlessly self-publicising, self-celebrating social network.

The unnamed man discovered his 12-year-old daughter had posted 'sexually explicit material' on the site, as well as details about where she lives and what school she attends. His daughter is currently in social care and has a history of behavioural problems.

Facebook removed a photograph of the girl pulling up her top, but her page, including a profile picture of the 12-year-old wearing make-up and a low cut top, remained in place. On Tuesday her father filed a writ which said the site had 'created a risk of sexual and physical harm' to the child.

It warned that unless her account is immediately closed and steps taken to ensure she can't open another one, he will seek an injunction to stop Facebook operating in Northern Ireland.

To say that Facebook has a dodgy reputation when it comes to protecting pre-high school users is something of an understatement. Actually, there aren't supposed to be any pre-high school users on the site at all.

Facebook acknowledge that allowing primary school children unrestricted access to leaps of imagination by some of the least mentally stable and most morally dubious members of the online world might not be especially responsible behaviour. So it puts on a serious, frowny face and asks its users if they're definitely 13. Only if they say, 'Um, yeah, I'm like, totally 13,' do they get welcomed onboard.

Some might consider that this is not an entirely watertight system for protecting pre-pubescent kids from some of the unbelievably nasty hate groups, moronic homophobic bullies and violent fantasists who populate the 750m strong Facebook community. (And if you fancy doing a little research, try simply typing 'I like punching' into the Facebook search bar, or maybe check out the 153,642 people who profess to 'like' the group 'If I could get away with it.. I'd f****g murder you.')

There have been a number of cases where paedophiles have been found to be using the site to groom potential young victims. Only last week 32-year-old Christian Bland was given an indeterminate jail sentence after a mother 'held' him on Facebook while police traced him after he threatened to kill or rape girls as young as 12 if they didn't send him provocative pictures.

The possibilities the site offers regarding the exploitation of easily manipulated and vulnerable little girls and boys are pretty obvious.

Yet it was only after a protracted battle with police and government protection groups that Facebook even agreed to install a simple safety mechanism, the one click panic button system, last year. It had previously argued that its own reporting systems were sufficient.

It's impossible to patrol the internet and see off every scoundrel. And it's not the fault of Facebook if there are horrible human beings using its site for deeply unpleasant means. But far too many people have tales of trying to have dangerous material removed from the site and waiting weeks for even an acknowledgment of contact for Facebook's constant claims of putting safety first credible.

I don't think Facebook is a good idea for under 18s. Actually, now we have Twitter - favouring collective power over individual indulgence - I don't think Facebook is a good idea at all.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph