Page last updated at 08:39 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Network sites 'need help buttons'

Jim Gamble, from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, explains how the button works

Major social networking websites have been criticised for not introducing a help button for children to report concerns about grooming and bullying.

Jim Gamble, from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), hit out at the sites as one site, Bebo, adopted the button.

He said there was "no legitimate reason" why other sites like MySpace and Facebook had not done the same.

A spokesman for Facebook said users' safety was its "top priority".

Trained officers

Ceop - the UK law enforcement agency tasked with tracing online sex offenders - says its Report button receives 10,000 hits a month on other websites.

Clicking the button allows users to contact specially trained Ceop officers for advice.

It also provides details of local police and links to 10 other sources of help including Childline.

The person that goes on with harmful intent - whether it's the bully or whether it's the paedophile - they know when they see it that there is an active deterrent here
Jim Gamble
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre

Mr Gamble said: "Children can contact us if they are worried, they fear about someone's intentions.

"Parents can be reassured because they know this environment is appropriately managed, with engagement with authorities ranging from the police service, including Ceop, right the way through to Childline online.

"And the predator, the person that goes on with harmful intent - whether it's the bully or whether it's the paedophile - they know when they see it that there is an active deterrent here."

He added: "I am applauding Bebo - it's taken us three years to get here. But I don't understand - and there is more than Facebook in this - I don't understand the logic for the others not following suit."

Several sites including Bebo, MSN Messenger and Facebook already give users the chance to alert staff to abuse, but now Bebo has gone further by adopting the Ceop Report button itself.

Bebo said it was "committed to providing its community with the safest possible environment" and its decision was praised as "very responsible" by Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

"I can see no reason why other sites would not consider adopting the same approach and would encourage them to embed the Ceop Report button for the benefit of all users," he added.

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'Safe environment'

A Facebook spokesman said: "The safety of Facebook users is the top priority for the company, which is why we have invested in the most robust reporting system to support our 300 million users.

"We also work closely with police forces in the UK and around the world to create a safe environment. Our teams are manned by trained staff in two continents giving 24-hour support in 70 languages.

"We look forward to hearing about the experience of Bebo using the Ceop button and will take account of their experience in any future evaluation of our reporting systems."

Mr Gamble said: "We have been working in this environment for a long time, it's our day job.

"We don't see the level of reporting coming from Facebook, MySpace, or the other social networking sites that we would expect.

"Generally parents and others have to go to MSN instant messenger, which has our button, to report to us."

He added: "This is easy, it's effective, it makes people safer, it's free. Put it in your environment - why won't you?"

On Monday, a poll of more than 2,000 young people by charity Beatbullying found that 57% had been harassed online using Windows Live Messenger.

Nearly a third said they had been cyber-bullied on Bebo.

Earlier this year, in the first criminal case of its kind in the UK, 18-year-old Keeley Houghton was detained for three months in a young offenders' institution for harassing a woman on Facebook.

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