Is CEOP Right About Twitter?

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Things have moved on since CEOP’s Facebook campaign, but child protection in social media still needs careful thought, says Peter Judge

It is interesting to see the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP) going up against Twitter. For some people it will bring back uncomfortable memories of  2010, when CEOP waged a sustained campaign against Facebook.

Twitter is not doing enough to prevent child abuse, says CEOP, and the first questions that provokes for me are these. How many children use Twitter?  How would a paedophile use the service? And what is CEOP basing its claim on?

Another moral panic?

CEOP’s 2010 campaign had uncomfortable elements of a moral panic. As has previously happened with video nasties, movies, comic books and the Penny Dreadful, fears of a new medium were exploited.

Facebook said it was already doing enough to protect children, and CEOP said it wasn’t, unless it used CEOP’s own scheme. MPs got into the argument adding more heat than light, and obscuring a debate about what is actually needed in this case.

Eventually Facebook and CEOP came to a compromise, and last year reported that it had helped in 414 cases of online abuse. No one is perfect, of course, with CEOP itself also facing investigations over a possible data breach.

Eighteen months on from CEOP’s Facebook campaign, social media is a much more accepted part of normal life. This time, it is much clearer what CEOP is claiming and what Twitter is doing about it.

The CEOP release raises questions about CEOP’s case against Twitter. It’s apparently based on the fact that complaints about Twitter users form a very small proportion of the 1,000 monthly reports CEOP gets “relating to a wide range of online environments”.

That might just mean that there are fewer children on Twitter, and less opportunity for abuse.

On the other hand, CEOP does point out that it is difficult to actually report any suspect behaviour, and it looks (to CEOP) as if reports are not acted on effectively.

Twitter makes the argument that, as with many cases of suspected criminal activity, it’s sometimes better to monitor and gather evidence instead of closing something down immediately. That is the kind of question which I would hope the police-backed CEOP should have good input on.

Now CEOP has gained attention with its press release, I don’t necessarily want to see much more publicity on this issue, and certainly not of the kind the Daily Mail produced last time. I hope the discussion moves to a productive forum, and we see genuine constructive answers.

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