The PR Goofy Award for today goes to Facebook no less. A recent news flash from Yahoo! News announced that MySpace removed 90,000 sex offenders from their site. If the realization that so many potential offenders were there iwere not enough, Facebook spokesperson Barry Schnitt underwhelmed us with a response that was a “non-response”. I quote from the Yahoo! story; “We have a policy prohibiting registered sex offenders from joining Facebook.”
I am sure Facebook’s policy just scares the wits out of any would be child molester out there. I expect MySpace did not advocate or advertise for sex offenders either, but 90,000 anything represents a kind of “undesirable army” to me. Schnitt went on to say that Facebook is glad they have not had occasion to handle a case of registered sex offenders meeting children via Facebook.
Good PR Is About Proper Communication
Just examining the wording of these statements reveals a little something about Facebook’s opinion I think. Rather than saying how glad Facebook is not to have had to handle a case, it may have been more appropriate to suggest that there “have been no instances reported”. I hope the reader gets my point here. Words are so indicative, and even if they are not the true intent of the spokesperson, part of being a good PR or spokesperson should be about words and what they convey.
Evidently Facebook has taken the “super secret ostrich strategy” to ensuring the safety of kids on Faceboook, as there has been no news of their findings yet. MySpace announced their numbers on Tuesday to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Cooper and Blumenthal have called for more child safe social networking Web sites.
Where Does It Say; “No Sex Offenders Allowed?”
Schnitt, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications and Public Policy at Facebook, has been in the news several times with regard to Facebook’s TOS and other “use” issues. It is interesting to note that Facebook security, as far as I can tell, is all centered around Spam and virus issues. Nowhere in the revised TOS can I find any specific rule against registering sexual offenders. Here is a copy/past of the section of the TOS prohibiting questionable activity.
- do anything that could disable, overburden or impair the proper working of the Facebook Service
- use any robot, spider, scraper or other automated means to access the Facebook Service;
- send spam or any other unauthorized advertisements or solicitations through or using the Facebook Service
- harvest, collect or use addresses, phone numbers or email addresses or other contact information (collectively “Contact Information”) of users of the Facebook Service without consent from such users
- solicit private information (including social security numbers, credit card numbers and passwords) from users of the Facebook Service
- provide any false personal information in your profile, create more than one profile, transfer your profile, create a profile for anyone other than yourself or create a page without authorization
- use your profile (as opposed to a Page) for any commercial purpose
- offer any contest, sweepstakes, coupon or other promotion through the Facebook Service without our prior written consent
- use an iFrame or offer web search functionality on the Facebook Service
- intimidate or harass any user
- do anything that is illegal, infringing, fraudulent, malicious or could expose Facebook or the Facebook Service users to harm or liability
- attempt, encourage or facilitate any of the above.
As you can see, any red blooded sexual predator had better watch his/her step when engaging Facebook for harassment purposes. Facebook has responded to complaints that breast feeding images are inappropriate, but some tens of thousands of protests were lodged on this exclusion. Somehow I view child predators and actual sex offenders in a more negative light than some lady proud of her baby and their tender moments though.
I cannot, or will not, tell you how many small battles we have waged to try and make the Web a little safer for kids. From Wikipedia to the most remote site you can imagine, we have engaged conversation with CEO’s, users, media and just about anyone who “should” be interested in this subject. The bottom line is, hardly any of them are really interested except when it causes them a little bad PR. Just trying to get 5 company bosses to agree on anything, let alone a politically charged problem, is like making bricks without straw. The bottom line is, unless people (and lost os them) complain, Facebook or any other platform will not be what everyone considers a “safe” platform for their kids. Facebook is acting pitifully, as law enforcement attempts to help, they simply side step apparently.
Labeling whole groups of people, even convicted sex offenders, has its pitfalls, we are not lind advocates of anything that removes people’s liberties.We do however acknowledge our part in the responsibility to solve these problems. Just saying we want things to be right does not make it so. The problem with Schnitt’s statements, besides that they appear misleading, is that they indicate Facebook’s evident disregard for this problem. In this way, perhaps Schnitt is being a good “mouth piece” in that he is correctly conveying Facebook’s philosophy with regard to child predators. <in any case, we need a Facebook app for our PR Goofy Award, anyone want to create it.
Some suggested further reading :
Update: The following addition came about after discovery that Facebook actually has updated their TOS to include an eligibility caution for registered sex offenders. The author (me) actually either missed this or viewed a cached version prior to their current one. Regardless of the “how”, I would like to apologize for this oversight and I include the original text via Facebook below, with some questions interlaced.
Protecting our users, especially the many children who use our site has always been a top priority for Facebook. Then why was there no “eligibility” clause for registered sex offenders before February 4th, 2009? We have devoted significant resources to developing innovative and complex systems to proactively monitor the site and its users, including those not on a sex offender registry, for suspicious activity (such as contacting minors or users of predominantly one gender). Then why did you not simply report this news more aggressively?
We also have established a large team of professional investigators to evaluate any reports of potential abuse, including those surfaced by our systems or from our users. Given your reactive posture in this regard, does this mean there are registered sex offenders trying to use the platform? We have been working proactively with states’ attorneys general to run their lists of registered sex offenders against our user base. Our team uses various internal tools to automatically find matches. Any potential matches are evaluated more fully by our internal team of investigation professionals. If we find that someone on a sex offender registry is a likely match to a user on Facebook, we notify law enforcement and disable the account. Again, some transparency would have had a multiplicity of good effects. In some cases, law enforcement has asked us to leave the accounts active so that they may investigate the user further. So, even though you have not had to deal with cases, there are cases in some state of investigation?
We have worked proactively to establish a publicly available national database available to everyone of registered sex offenders that enables real-time checks and includes important unique information like email addresses and IM handles. Where is this data base, and how do we look at it? How can we verify what you say is true? Why did you not tell the world about this? How long have you been being so proactive? The passage of the KIDS Act, a measure we actively supported, was a major step forward and we’ve already contacted the new administration to offer our help in designing the real-time access features that it supports. Can we have a copy of this contact document? Again, why didn’t someone report on all this?
We are glad to be able to report that the success of these techniques means that we have not yet had to handle a case of a registered sex offender meeting a minor through Facebook. We are working hard to make sure it never happens. Lastly, the wording of this indicates you are glad you did not have to “deal” with it more than your joy over it having never happened. You are having to deal with all this, you appear to only be “happy nothing terrible has happened” is what it looks like.
Author’s addendum:The multitude of problems facing these massive social networks leaves administrators like Mr. Schnitt swamped with often unexpected issues and details to follow up on. I offer this tidbit of “slack” out of pure fairness, but the buck ultimately has to stop at his and his boss’ desk. It is my opinion that Facebook did not want even the “insinuation” of possible abuses, and that they took tehe “high ground” on this one. At least this is apparent to me.
Almost all of these quasi-new age developers seem to take this stance no matter what the issue is. I would call them flaming liberals if I still believed in such a polarity of politics. Freedom this and freedom that, when simple transparency (something they all claim to uphold) would suffice to cure a world of evils.
A suggested PR course might have been to reveal certain aspects of this to the news and on their site. Any registered sex offender, or other harmful element for that matter, would be deterred more by this transparency that the slight insinuation of it. This is not to say that Facebook or any other company should reveal anything that would further hinder efforts to protect the innocent. The problem here is one of 2caring after the fact” in my opinion. I applaud MySpace on this one for at least having the gumption to reveal the blackness of this issue.
Facebook, for all intents and purposes, is still asking you to believe that 90,000 potential sex offenders invaded MySpace, while Facebook unleashed a horde of private investigators and other measures, ensuring your child’s safety, and without whimpering a word about it. This is all I have to say now, save I have contacted North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for comment. Perhaps you should too?
I just talked with Mr. Blumenthal’s press secretary, who was unable to comment as to whether Facebook has been as forthcoming as MySpace with regard to their subpoena. Attorney General Blumenthal was not available for comment, but was obviously highly interested in these developments. I was directed to the end of their office’s recent press release in immediate answer to this question, and I quote the pertinent section:
“MySpace will turn over the information to the Attorney General’s Office for investigation starting today.
Recent reports also indicate substantial numbers of convicted offenders with profiles on Facebook. Blumenthal said that his office is awaiting a response to his recent subpoena to Facebook.”
I await a call from Attorney General of North Carolina Cooper, but given the dogged track of Facebook, I think the message is clear.