Online safety is still not being taken seriously by social media companies

Letter to Facebook and government: It's time for social networking sites to be held accountable for the content on their sites

Peter Wanless NSPCC CEOPeter Wanless has today (5 June 2015) written to government and Facebook about online safety and how social media companies still aren't taking this issue seriously.

This comes in response to a disturbing video that was posted on Facebook, and brought to our attention yesterday (4 June 2015).

Letter to Baroness Shields and Ed Vaizey MP

I was deeply troubled today to see there is yet another disturbing video circulating on social media. The two-minute film on Facebook shows a terrified, sobbing baby being constantly immersed in a bucket of water by an unidentified adult.

We are obviously extremely concerned for the welfare of the infant and are urging Facebook to offer every co-operation with the authorities to try and track down this callous individual and protect the baby.

While the welfare of this child is naturally paramount we would also urge you to look at all available options which will ensure UK citizens, including millions of children, are no longer exposed to this kind of dreadful and disturbing content.

Facebook's terms and conditions say it will 'remove graphic images when they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence.' But when questioned on this latest piece of film the official reaction was to say 'it does not breach its policies.'

Yet, as we have seen in the past images of people being harmed and even beheaded have taken a dubious place on social media sites. In recent weeks the NSPCC has received complaints about other images posted on Facebook which apparently showed the blanket-covered corpse of a baby lying in a pool of blood and a woman hitting a boy with a stick and kicking him.

The NSPCC believes we have now reached the long overdue point where it is time for social networking sites to be held to account for the content on their sites and pay more attention to their safeguarding duties to protect children and young people, whether they are viewing the content or appearing in it.

The UK has to date supported and encouraged digital spaces to work within a self-regulatory framework. But many are citing often contradictory terms and conditions or geographical complexities as a reason for not removing horrific material and confronting this issue in a systematic and comprehensive way.

Research has consistently highlighted that too many providers are simply not doing enough to protect children so we believe stringent measures are the only solution.

A Digital Manifesto was published by the Children's Charities Coalition for Internet Safety earlier this year. It recommended that a new body be established, armed with the legal powers to ensure internet companies are transparent and accountable in respect of actions aimed at supporting online child safety.

Such a body or division should also be given the power to make legally binding orders requiring internet companies to take necessary and proportionate measures to safeguard children online. A global commitment to tackling this problem is also needed as too often the companies involved are based abroad. As was highlighted recently the UK may also lose further control if EU proposals regarding 'net neutrality' are implemented.

Over the last two years, under the leadership of the Prime Minister and yourself, the Government partnership with industry has taken major strides in tackling child sexual abuse images on the internet. Google, Microsoft and other companies have prioritised this issue.

It is now time for the light to be shone on the responsibilities of social media companies, an area where progress has been extremely slow. As you know, the Government convened a meeting of the social media companies to look at these issues in February 2014 but there has been no substantial progress since then. We have just re-elected a new government and now is the time for a renewed mandate and focus.

I strongly believe this matter is too serious to be allowed to continue so would urge you to reconvene a meeting of the relevant companies so we can at last get some decisive action.


Peter Wanless,
Chief Executive

*joanna shields/BARONESS SHIELDS OBE

Joanna Shields is Minister for Internet Safety and Security.

*ed vaizey mp

Ed Vaizey is Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy.