Facebook tests icon for reporting predators, pornography

Safety icon will allow users to report potential sexual predators, cyber bullies and inappropriate content.

Facebook has started testing a safety icon developed by the state of New Jersey to allow users of the social networking site to report potential sexual predators, cyber bullies and inappropriate content, New Jersey AG Anne Milgram announced Wednesday.

The testing and evaluation of the "Report Abuse" icon is part of Facebook's May agreement with 49 US state attorneys general to find ways to better protect children from online criminals. The testing will span 1.5 million page impressions on Facebook over six months, Milgram said.

Facebook also noted that it plans to continue to enhance age and identity tools on Facebook, and provide automatic warning messages when a child is in danger of providing personal information to an unknown adult, as part of the agreement.

Under the plan, the icon will appear on randomly selected Facebook pages in place of Facebook's existing links to report questionable content. Milgram's office said that Facebook will compare reporting data generated by the icon to data generated on pages using the existing icon.

At the end of the test, Facebook will work with the AG's office to assess the comparison data and develop the next steps in fulfilling the agreement, which could include expanding the use of the icon or discontinuing or revising the test.

"We developed our icon after investigations by my office revealed widespread abuses on social networking sites and obstacles to effectively and efficiently reporting those abuses to the site operators,'' Milgram said in a statement. "We believe our Report Abuse icon and the best practices that support its operation enable swift reporting and foster swift responses from the social networking sites and, if warranted, law enforcement authorities."

When a user clicks on the icon, there will be links to pages offering safety tips, and a place to provide comments. The tool also provides a method to block the person who posts inappropriate content or who the user considers threatening. There are specific categories of reports, such as reporting nudity or pornography on the site.

The system will provide users with confirmation that authorities received their report, the AG's office added.

At the same time it agreed to work with the AGs in May, Facebook also confirmed that it would participate in the Internet Safety Task Force created by MySpace as part of its January agreement with the attorneys general. The task force was formed to explore and develop age and identity verification tools for social networking sites.

The Report Abuse icon is also being tested by other social networking sites, including MyYearbook.com, BlackPlanet.com, MiGente.com, Glee.com, AsianAve.com, Dweeber.com and Faithbase.com.

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld
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