Red Hood Project fights to protect kids from predators on social media

Anonymity is a powerful protector in the online world, but it can also be a powerful weapon against the innocent.

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Putting faith in a flawed system  

The tragedies of Parsons, Todd, and many others, demonstrate to some that the early Nineties promise of an all-empowering Internet has not come to pass. As it turns out, people are capable of extreme cruelty, particularly when they think that there will be no repercussions. Any quick Google search for "Amanda Todd photos" confirms this.

Protecting children and teens as they navigate the Internet is virtually impossible for any parent today, Garossino says, and it will become even more difficult tomorrow until something is done. 

She has been appealing to Facebook's senior management level to implement policies to protect children and to forbid violent images and discussion on the site. Along with other advocates, she has also urged Facebook to remove  predatory pictures of Amanda Todd. Facebook has, however, remained silent about the teen's victimization, as well as the ongoing malicious use of her photographs and post-mortem misogynistic bullying that continues today.

"For all their claims of sophisticated software and algorithms, it's almost unbelievable to me how little control they have over their own site," she said. 

This is because Facebook lacks any financial incentive to protect users from bullying or harassment, she says. A social media company focuses on product development and growing revenue, and policing content would cost money.

Indeed, Facebook relies on volunteers to report and remove infringing or predatory content, which presumes two things that are not safe to presume:

  1. Facebook's moderators will actually find that predatory content;
  2. The mods will actually remove it once they spot it.

Facebook simply hasn't made the investment in protecting children who use its service. Its current head of content policy, David Willner, had plenty of help-desk experience when he was hired for the big job at age 24, but has zero legal experience. He is completely out of his depth once the enormity of the job is considered.

If a parent lets children have a Facebook account, it has to be done with a blind trust akin to that of letting them drive a car without an airbag or seatbelts: in the event of an unfortunate accident, there's little protection in place. 

Hiring a lawyer or civil-rights professional (at their corresponding pay rates) would be prohibitive for your average Railtown or Silicon Alley startup, but fairly reasonable for a $93 billion media juggernaut like Facebook.

Facebook has proven adept at hand-wringing in the aftermath the odd PR maelstrom, such as when advertisers demanded their messages be removed from pages glorifying rape. Public opinion forced a reaction, but a reaction alone is not good enough for us, argues Garossino.

It's also not good enough for Facebook, considering its own future.

Thankfully, the Red Hood Project's call for 'systemic security' to block predators from accessing children's accounts has been gaining broad support. Their letter to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been signed by the YWCA, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, anti-bullying advocate and poet Shane Koyczan, Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus, recording artist Grimes and many others.

Asymmetric anonymity

Today's tweens and teens use Facebook and Twitter on the regular; to them, that blue login screen is as much a part of daily life as was the dial-tone to their parents. To gain access to the social media world, all you need is a name, and it doesn't even have to be your own.

This situation punishes victims while rewarding the bullies.

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