As did UK members of Parliament, US Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is now calling on Facebook to create a “panic button” for the US like the one FB’s putting in place for UK users, reports HometownSource.com in Minnesota. Only it’s not a “button” or a 9-1-1-type helpline; it’s an app that users would need to download, as I wrote earlier this week. So it needs marketing to create uptake, which is fine – FB could help with that – but the marketing would have to make it very cool in order for the app to “go viral” and get widespread use.
But the real problem with this idea is two-fold: whether it would create a false sense of security that makes people think this mitigates the risky behaviors of vulnerable youth (see “Profile of a teen online victim”) and whether it could make matters worse for teens in need of help, as social-media researcher danah boyd brings out in her blog. Here are some of the good questions CEOP uses to encourage Facebook users to seek help, boyd writes: “Do you sometimes struggle to find answers to things that worry you online? Had bad wall posts from people you don’t know? Seen something written about you that isn’t true, or worse?” They’re serious questions that go to the heart of bullying, boyd says. Then she asks a question I keep asking too about law enforcement & cyberbullying: Are law enforcement people – experts in crime, not adolescent behavior – truly equipped to deal with a spectrum of adolescents’ cries for help? Can they tell the difference between those and pranks, or dig down beneath surface questions to core issues? Boyd writes: “Even if every teen in the UK were to seriously add this [app] and take it seriously, there’s no way that the UK police have a fraction of the resources to help teens manage challenging social dynamics. As a result, what false promises are getting made?” I hope you don’t wonder how empty promises hurt anything, but if you do, boyd’s response is compelling, I think: “Many of the teens that I encounter truly need help. They need supportive people in their lives to turn to. I desperately want to see social services engage with these youth. But what I find over and over again is that social services do not have the resources to help even a fraction of the youth that come to them. So when we create a system where we tell youth that they have an outlet and then they use it and we don’t live up to our side of the bargain, then what? Many of the teens that I interviewed told me of their efforts to report problems to teachers, guidance counselors, parents, etc. only to no avail. That left them feeling more helpless and alone.” She calls for independent evaluation of the ClickCEOP process before it’s implemented over here. I think that’s a good idea. [Also, scroll down to the screen shots of how abuse-reporting works in FB in this post by tech pundit Berin Szoka in Washington, and my first post on this subject last spring, "Facebook: Why a Safety Center, not a 'panic button'."]