Is Facebook Safe Enough?


How do you police a social network with more than 400 million users?

Facebook has come under fire recently for being a potentially dangerous environment for users. Beyond the casual stalking and harassment that takes place on the site between “friends,” there have been some very scary incidents including the recent case of a serial rapist who used Facebook to arrange a meeting with a teenage girl.

So earlier this week, Facebook decided to launch a new safety center in order to appease critics and provide an outlet for concerned users. According to Fox News, “Some new features of the safety center include four times more content on staying safe, such as dealing with bullying online.” The updates will also make it easier for users to report abuse and harassment to administrators.

Facebook announced on the company’s blog that it will be inviting experts from “the most trusted safety organizations” to write posts about everything from “cyberbullying to the importance of thinking before you post.” But isn’t it a bit ludicrous to imagine that a regular column can stop people from misbehaving on Facebook?

As ReadWriteWeb points out, Facebook is perfectly designed to stoke this kind of behavior. “[B]y exposing every little detail, photo and link to a user base… Facebook is simply allowing there to be more opportunity for someone to actually see the nasty comment made about them on a wall post... or the embarrassing photo of someone cheating on their boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse. It provides the fodder for the cyberbullies and the tools for those who seek to stalk, monitor or control another's behavior. It provides more avenues for abuse.”

Still, there are some interesting pieces of advice now available on the site that weren’t before:

Their advice on cyberbullying: “Cyberbullies often seek a reaction from the people they harass. When they fail to get one, they often give up gradually. Rather than responding to a bully via Inbox, a Wall post, or Facebook Chat, you can use the "Block" or "Report" functions to resolve the issue safely.”

On how teachers can stay professional on the site: “If you are a teacher and have a personal profile, you can consider creating a group or a Page specifically for interacting with students, parents, or colleagues. Create Friend Lists to control what parts of your profile students are able to access.”

On what parents should tell their kids if they are being harassed by an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend: “If your teen's current or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend is controlling or monitoring his or her activity on Facebook, this could be a sign of relationship abuse… [C]all the National Domestic Violence Hotline [or]… consider restricting privacy on his or her Facebook account so that certain people can’t access information like the Wall, photos, or profile.”

But some critics in the UK are demanding that Facebook do even more. They are calling for Facebook to place a panic button on every page to make it easy for young users to report abuse. Facebook has so far refused to do this and several sites have pointed out that it will probably only foster a heightened sense of danger or fear, without having much practical impact.

Check out our roundup of the dumbest mistakes users have made on Facebook.

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