Facebook has agreed to add safeguards to protect children from sexual predators, obscene content and harassment after New York prosecutors threatened the site with fraud charges for failing to live up to its own safety and complaints response claims.
Investigators with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo posed as young teenagers and set up profiles on Facebook. According to a statement from the Attorney General ‘s office, "they received online sexual advances from adults within days and found widespread pornographic and obscene content."
Facebook was also accused of failing to respond, and at other times being slow to respond, to complaints lodged by investigators posing as parents of underage users, asking the site to take action against predators that had harassed their children.
Facebook claimed that youngsters on its site were "safer from sexual predators than at most sites and that it promptly responds to concerns." Facebook had also represented itself as a "trusted environment for people to interact safely".
Under the terms of the settlement, Facebook agrees "to respond to and begin addressing complaints about nudity Publications or pornography, harassment or unwelcome contact within 24 hours." It must also report to the complainant the steps it has taken to address the complaint within 72 hours where the complaint has been emailed to abuse@ facebook.com. Hyperlinks must be placed "throughout Facebook’s website" for accepting complaints about nudity or pornography, harassment or unwelcome contact. An Independent Safety and Security Examiner will be appointed to report on Facebook’s compliance.
What this demonstrates is that, as in the "real" world any online business must be vigilant to ensure that its promises, in terms of service levels or response times or otherwise match delivery. A large part of Facebook’s problem was that it over-promised and under-delivered - in an area (child safety) that is becoming increasingly of concern to parents, regulators and law-makers. It also shows that any site that relies on user-generated content needs a prominent complaint mechanism, that channels complaints in a way that make them manageable.
It is even more important for any site that targets children.
If Facebook had a clear and obvious complaint system, and had ensured that its conduct, in terms of response times, matched its promises, it may have avoided the action. It now has onerous demands to address complaints within 24 hours and to report on steps taken within 72 hours. Time will tell whether these time limits will become the industry norm.
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