Some British teens will be getting an unusual Facebook update this week as a U.K. child protection group rolls out a new "panic" button application for the site — designed to let youths report inappropriate overtures to the protection group's website with a single click. Though Facebook initially rejected the button, arguing that it already offers ample safety features, it reversed its position after 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall was murdered by a 32-year-old man who'd won her trust posing as a teenage Facebook user. While advocates say the graphically conspicuous "panic" button will deflect potential predators, others claim the button gives users a sense of false security. (Watch a Sky News report about the Facebook panic button.)
A "panic" button won't protect kids: Most Internet sex predators are wily enough to coax teens "into relationships slowly, gaining their trust over time," says Natali Del Conte at CNET. Once their victims feel "complicit" in the relationship, they're less likely to use such a button even when the predator's crossed a line. This tool is nothing but media hype — unlikely to safeguard our kids as effectively as "a healthy conversation" about the danger of online predators.
"On Facebook, don't panic!"
Actually, this might be the best way to approach the issue: "For my money, this feels like the right solution," says Mike Butcher at TechCrunch Europe. By featuring the "panic" button prominently on teen profile pages, the application's creators "send a visual signal to any visitor" that the user is savvy to the risks of online harassment. And since the function is optional, there's a better chance that it will "go viral" online, making it cool for teens to protect themselves.
"Facebook has not launched a 'panic button' — it's smarter than that"
This worrisome feature could easily backfire: While we're all for any tool that helps "protects teenagers from Ashleigh Hall's fate," the "panic" button seems "ripe for abuse," says Samuel Axon at Mashable. Some malicious Facebookers might misuse it to humiliate or stigmatize their peers.
"Facebook will add a 'panic button' for U.K. teens"