Social-networking sites pledge to make web safer

17 social networking websites, including Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, have signed an agreement with the EU affirming their commitment to stamp out cyberbullying. The agreement was announced on the day that the EU marks Safer Internet Day.

Social-networking sites pledge to make web safer

More than a quarter of teenagers are victims of cyberbullying, according to a recent survey commissioned by Microsoft.

The survey also shows that two thirds of European teenagers spend most of their online time using social networks, and more than half wander the web unsupervised by an adult.

According to the EU Commission, the use of social networks has grown over the past year by 35% in Europe, and is expected to more than double to 107.4 million users by 2012.

The Commission said that for social networks to continue to grow, young users need to feel safe when expanding their networks or sharing personal information.

The agreement signed with the EU dictates that social-networking sites must provide an easy-to-use “report abuse” button, to allow users to report inappropriate conduct with one click. All online profiles of users who are registered as under 18 will be set to “private” by default, and these profiles will not be searchable by the websites’ search engines.

The-social networking sites also guarantee that privacy options are prominent and accessible at all times, so that users can easily work out if only their friends or the entire public can see what they post online. And the sites will prevent under-age users from using their services, so that a social networking site that targets over 13s will make it difficult for people below that age to register.

Not enough action

However, despite the signing of the EU agreement, UK-based children’s charity Kidscape has called for social-networking websites to be more active in ensuring the safety of their young users.

“We’ve joined with other organisations in the past to call for more responsibility from the owners of these social-networking sites, but they’re not going to bite the hand that feeds them,” Nikki Kerr, project manager at Kidscape told PC Pro

“If they started imposing restrictions on what you can and can’t say, names you can and can’t use, then they will lose a lot of people. It would be great if they could be a bit more responsible and proactive in monitoring the content of the site.”

Kerr did admit, however, that sites such as MySpace and Bebo have many millions of users, and it’s impossible to monitor everything that is going on. However, she said the sites are still taking too laid-back an approach when users are approaching moderators to report inappropriate content.

“If you are contacted and told that somebody is sending out bullying or abusive messages, some of a sexual nature, they will look into it. Sometimes they will do something about it, but they don’t do it as often as they should,” said Kerr.

“There are a lot of instances where people have posted inappropriate content, and the site owners have looked at it, but they haven’t done anything about it. A lot of the time, it’s because the owners are in America and they don’t really care about what UK people have to say about their site,” she added.

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