Keeping Kids Safe Online

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by Sammy Lindsey

Some 140 UK companies have signed up for a new voluntary code to be announced by the government this week aimed at keeping kids safe online.

Facebook and other networking sites are said to be considering the installation of panic buttons enabling children to alert admins if ‘inappropriate’ material is posted. The Sunday Timesreports that 140 companies, charities and other groups have signed up to the code and that Home Secretary Alan Johnson is set to announce the new scheme on Tuesday 26th Jan.

The initiative also includes the obligation for sites to provide ‘safe search’ facilities, allowing parents to restrict access to offensive pages. The government will also launch a national advertising campaign aimed at parents, teachers and kids.

“Gordon Brown is expected to make an announcement about installing the ‘panic button’ on PCs ,” a Facebook spokesperson told TG Daily.
“This relates to a program the UK Government has for buying around 270,000 PCs for poor families. As the Government is buying these PCs they can install any software they want on them including having the panic button in the pre-installed browser.”

However, in my opinion, a button which simply provides a means of reporting abuse does not go far enough and it should constitute more of a ‘stop-this-and-get-me-out-of-here-now’ function first and foremost. Reporting of the alleged abuse is surely secondary to stopping it in its tracks.
So, in addition to reporting abuse, pressing the button should also have more immediate functionality. For instance, a single press on it could bring up a window which overrides any window activity below and freezes input of new communication to the user’s account (be that messages, a chat conversation, items posted on a ‘wall’ and so forth.) This window could give the victim a chance to select very easily and quickly those contacts they wanted to stop all communication with based on who they been in contact with most recently.

This would be much more preferable to just hitting the close button in the appropriate window as, while that would stop the abuse, the victim would still be subjected to witnessing it the next time they logged back in. The window could prevent the perpetrators from successfully contacting them again at that point or offer a cooling-off period of a pre-defined period of time perhaps over 24-48 hours. Either way, if the block is made permanent and they wish to do so, abuse could be reported to the service provider at this stage.

In this way, a stop or ‘panic’ button on social networking services could operate in a similar way to what I advocated in my dissertation for virtual worlds which allow for sexual activity between avatars.

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