Facebook could face fines of more than $2bn for gross breaches of laws being proposed by campaigners aimed at stopping harm to children online. The child protection charity NSPCC has urged ministers to criminalise social media companies who fail to protect children from exposure to material including images of child abuse and which allow grooming.…
Facebookcould face fines of more than $2bn for gross breaches of laws being proposed by campaigners aimed at stopping harm to children online.
The child protection charity NSPCC has urged ministers to criminalise social media companies who fail to protect children from exposure to material including images of child abuse and which allow grooming. It also wants a new statutory regulator to tackle the availability of images of self-harm, including suicide.
The calls are being backed by Ruth Moss, whose daughter Sophie killed herself in 2014, aged 13, having viewed images of suicide and self-harm on social networks including Facebook andInstagram.
At the launch of the proposed regulatory regime Moss described how she was devastated by her daughter’s suicide and demonstrated how, more than four years after she died, it still takes just seconds to find images on Facebook of people who have taken their own lives and of self-harm. She searched under “cutting wrist suicide” and her Facebook account offered an image of a person with the word “failure” carved bleeding into their arm. Moss said she wants to meet Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister who is now Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs in California.
“Sophie’s death devastated me,” she said. “No mother, or family, should have to go through that. I found that she had been looking at completely inappropriate things online. Some of the images were so graphic that even as an adult I was shocked.”
The NSPCC said a new regulator would:
•Have legal powers to investigate tech firms and “lift the lid” on their child safety measures.
•Demand social networks build minimum child safety standards into the design of the of their site, for example preventing streaming with strangers, and in their reporting and moderating functions.
•Hold platforms responsible for harms that start on their sites but then go on elsewhere.
•Impose sanctions for breaches of up to €20m (£17.5m) or 4% of global turnover.
•Hold a director responsible and strike them off if they fail.
The charity claimed public backing for its proposals, revealing a poll which showed 92% of parents of children aged over 11 support regulation of social networks to make them legally responsible for keeping children safe. It said the majority of people believe Facebook, Twitter, Instagram andSnapchatare all unsafe for 11 and 12-year-old children.
“We cannot continue to stumble from tragedy to tragedy, issue by issue, with a half-hearted, piecemeal approach from social networks, when it is already too late and a parent has lost a child,” said Peter Wanless, chief executive of NSPCC.
“Over the last decade, self-regulation has been tried and found wanting time and time again. Thirteen voluntary codes of conduct have each launched with warm words and good intentions. None have designed essential child protection properly into the online world.
“Instead, children have continued to face an unacceptable level of risk right across social networks, with devastating consequences. In the offline world, from toys to playgrounds, we take child safety regulations for granted. Yet online, the most basic child protection remains an optional extra.”
The intervention comes amid a growing clamour for restrictions on the material that is available online to children following the death of Molly Russell, 14, who took her own life. Her Instagram account was found to contain distressing material about depression and suicide.Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, last week announced that it willban all graphic self-harm imagesas part of a series of changes.
The government is considering imposing a mandatory code of conduct on tech companies, which could be accompanied by fines for non-compliance, prompting a substantial behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign by social media sites.
The culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, is due to unveil the government’s proposals at the end of this month.
Moss said: “Facebook and [Mark] Zuckerberg in particular don’t take their governance issues as seriously as they should do. They are all about profit. I don’t have a problem with making a profit, but with that kind of power comes responsibility.”
She described how she had allowed her daughter to have a mobile phone when she was being bussed to school. She was suffering from depression and had established a Facebook account using a different name, pretending to be older than she was. She found that her daughter had been looking at disturbing images and also realised she had been online with older men, so she called the police and searches of her devices uncovered that she had been looking at images of self-harm.
They locked down the wifi at home and the school helped too. But when she was outside of those places – on the bus, in cafes – she had no control.
“I would never say social media or these images caused the death of my child,” she said. “Mental health is so much more complicated than that. A lot of the time she hid her mental health behind a really bubbly persona with a beautiful smile. It was the darker thoughts behind that that made her really vulnerable. These images are just very negative and they perpetuate already difficult mental health. They really shouldn’t be looked at.Childrenat the age of 12 are not emotionally developed.”
Facebook has been contacted for comment.