A global group of more than 50 child safety organisations and campaigners has urged Mark Zuckerberg to make Facebook safer for children, sending an open letter to the social network founder calling for more transparency on how the platform plans to tackle the issue.
Led by the NSPCC, the group has asked Facebook to publish, in full, its research on how its apps impact children’s mental health and grant access to its data to independent researchers, as well as publishing risk assessments on its products in relation to children.
It says it is speaking out in the wake of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s claim that the company’s products “harm children” and accusation that it refused to change its products – despite having internal research which showed it can have a negative impact on younger users – because executives elevate profits over safety.
Ms Haugen’s accusations were accompanied by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.
Facebook has dismissed the attacks as a “misrepresentation” of what it does.
Organisations including the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, the Child Rescue Coalition, the International Justice Mission, 5 Rights, Barnardo’s and the Internet Watch Foundation have now joined with the NSPCC in voicing their concerns about the company’s approach to child safety.
The coalition has presented five recommendations to the tech giant in order to help “regain the trust of parents and child protection professionals” and ensure the company “contributes rather than compromises” children’s safety and wellbeing.
The group said it welcomes Facebook’s efforts to undertake research on the mental health impact of its products but now is recommending that its work be published in full and that access to it be granted to independent regulators and experts.
The letter also calls for the firm to do the same for any research it has done around the company’s products and their impact on the spread of child sexual abuse; the publication of Facebook risk assessments into its products, including those required under the UK Children’s Code; share more details on how it is conducting reputational reviews for different services; and to review the child safety implications of its planned move to end-to-end encryption across its services.
“Mark Zuckerberg must recognise and accept that public trust in his company to do the right thing by children has now reached breaking point,” NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said.
“The scale and strength of the global coalition that has come together to urge Facebook to act provides further evidence that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option.
“Facebook cannot continue to move fast and break things when children’s safety is at stake. Greater transparency on how their platforms are putting young users at risk and the steps they are taking to address these problems and make services safe by design must now be a top priority for them.”
In response, a Facebook company spokesperson said: “We’re committed to keeping young people who use our platform safe. We’ve spent 13 billion dollars on safety in recent years – including developing tools to enhance the safety and wellbeing of young people across Facebook and Instagram.
“We’ve shared more information with researchers and academics than any other platform and we will find ways to allow external researchers more access to our data in a way that respects people’s privacy.”
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