Facebook sued by father over ‘explicit’ photos of 12-year-old daughter

A 12-year-old Northern Irish girl from County Antrim has been uploading nude photos of herself and giving out her personal details (including where she lived and the name of the school she attended) on Facebook. Consequently, her father is currently suing Facebook for putting his child at risk, in spite of the fact that the social networking site requires its members to be at least 13 years of age.

The writ lodged in Belfast High Court on Monday alleged that Facebook had been “guilty of negligence” and that it had created “a risk of sexual and physical harm” to the child. The father is seeking an injunction not only ordering Facebook to close down his daughter’s account but to stop her from opening another one. If that doesn’t happen, he wants to see Facebook stop operations in Northern Ireland. Facebook, for its part, says it uses back-end end technology to try and prevent underage users from signing up again.

The writ also records the following particulars of the case in hand: the girls father has already had to close an account that his daughter opened; the girl has behavioral problems and lives in a voluntary care institution; the Derry-based lawyer, Hilary Carmichael, says that the girl is so ‘heavily made up’ in the pictures, in which she adopts provocative poses, that she appears much older than 12 years of age. It would appear that she posts the shots herself, but the Evening Herald reports that the girl received many requests for more photos from adult men as well as sexually explicit messages.

Hilary Carmichael insists that Facebook is guilty of not doing enough to protect children from pedophiles. When interviewed by the BBC, she commented:

“It [Facebook] relies on children stating their correct age and it doesn’t have any checks in place … My own personal view is that Facebook isn’t suitable for under-18s, but the company isn’t even able to uphold its own policy of keeping under-13s out … An age check, like asking for a passport number would be a simple measure for Facebook to implement.”

The lawyer, who is a mother-of-three, told the Evening Herald that she has come across similar Facebook pages of children who live in the Republic of Ireland and warned parents to be vigilant:

“We’ve had parents who’ve been in contact with us whose children live in the Republic and operate Facebook pages in the Republic… If they have any concerns, they should shut it down straight away.”

She added that it is easy to pin down the location of a child by following posts on the site and that “a lot of children are innocent and they don’t know the dangers”, for which reason she says they should not be allowed to have Facebook pages. She has launched a site to warn parents about the risks: www.childrenonfacebook.com

Child protection expert Jim Gamble agrees that Facebook’s age policy is difficult to check:

“Under-13s create a real problem because it is absolutely impossible in the current set of standards to be sure about the age of anyone because children will lie.”

He said this particular case would be interesting for a number of reasons:

“It is a complex set of relationships because, of course there is a duty of care for the company, a clear duty of care for parents and a clear duty of care for anyone in whose care a child is put.”

Gamble is of the opinion that that Facebook’s security set-up does not work as efficiently as it could and said he would be following the case closely to see if the site would be brought to account. Whether you think the security measures are enough or not, I doubt that Carmichael’s suggestion that passports be used as a form of identification will be brought into effect. For starters, many children do not possess passport numbers and few users of the site would agree to have this form of identity information stored on the site. In response to this suggestion to use passports to implement a strict system for age verification, Facebook says that it prefers to educate its users about safety instead. Facebook would not have grown as quickly as it did if signing up for the social network was a laborious process.

A representative of Facebook offered the following statement:

“Anyone who is concerned about an underage person on Facebook should report them to us using the form provided and we will remove them.

Facebook is currently designed for two age groups (13-17 year olds and 18 and up), and we provide extensive safety and privacy controls based on the age provided. If someone reports an underage account to use then we will remove it, and use back-end end technology to try and prevent them signing up again. However, recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to implement age restrictions on the Internet and that there is no single solution to ensuring younger children don’t circumvent a system or lie about their age.

However, we agree with safety experts that communication between parents/guardians and kids about their use of the Internet is vital. We believe that services such as Facebook have a role to play in encouraging this: the recent announcements around social reporting and our safety center are testimonies to our ongoing efforts in ensuring we are giving detailed and helpful advice to help support these conversations. Just as parents are always teaching and reminding kids how to cross the road safely, talking about internet safety should be just as important a lesson to learn.”

Essentially, Facebook’s stance is that the burden falls on parents to monitor their children’s activities online; communication between parents and their kids about their use of the Internet is vital. Facebook has made recent updates to its safety and security offerings, including theFamilySafetyCenterand social reporting tool. Additionally, Facebook works with charity partners such as Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and law enforcement agencies across the world. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires that websites that collect information about its users cannot permit anyone under the age of 13 to sign up. Consequently, Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities require that its users are at least 13 years old (if not older, which is the case in some jurisdictions). Meanwhile, while parents insist that the site should bear more responsibility in ensuring that their children are safe, millions of preteens are happily facebooking, some with parental permission, while others lie about their age to get access to the site. It is estimated that 7.5million users of the social network are below the minimum age, with a worrying projection that more than two-thirds of those were 10-years-old or younger. While parents are busy demanding that safety is stepped up, children are putting themselves in dangerous situations while they use the internet in the home or on their mobile phones (with tariffs that include data allowance) that their parents will pay for.








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Categories: Business, Events, People, Politics, Law, Science, Technology, Uncategorized

Author:Mary-Ellen L

Lives at www.animadvert.co.uk. Lecturer in Literature and Philosophy, Poet and Professional Cynic.

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