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UK Government, Search Engines and Social Networks Combat Internet Abuse

UK Government, Search Engines and Social Networks Combat Internet Abuse

As the number of victims of online abuse escalated in the past few months, Internet providers have recently decided upon taking strong measures against online harassment.

Even though social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have been linked to cases of online abuse in the past, with a particular increase in the last four years, it had not been until recently that both websites along with search engines including Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, have taken serious action.

The series of measures implemented by online platforms come as an outcome of the recent cases of sexual harassment and child abuse warnings issued by Twitter and Microsoft Bing, and in response to the government’s decision to filter the Internet search engines.

The decision was made after Prime Minister David Cameron declared he would enforce new laws on Internet providers should they fail to restrict access to illegal material.

In a recent press conference, Cameron highlighted the importance of blocking certain abusive terms, which can link to a high number of sources of child abuse images, particularly when used in Search Engine Optimized systems.

“There are some searches which are so abhorrent and where there can be no doubt whatsoever about the sick and malevolent intent of the searcher,” said the Prime Minister. He insisted that these companies should put more effort into fighting Internet abuse.

An immediate measure was taken by Microsoft, who introduced a child abuse warning in their Bing search engine. The pop-up facility, which is the first of the kind in the United Kingdom, warns users against their search for illegal images, and provides useful links to counselling services for those who have developed an online addiction.

In an official statement, Microsoft declared that it remains “a strong proponent of proactive action by the technology industry in the fight against child exploitation. The Bing Notification Platform is just one way Microsoft is working to tackle the scourge of online child abuse content.”

A Microsoft spokesman added “this is in addition to Microsoft’s existing and longstanding policy of removing any verified links to illegal content of this sort from Bing as quickly as possible.”

Andy Baker, deputy chief executive at Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP), agreed that the Bing notification was the first step towards restricting access to illegal content, and also admitted that Microsoft’s initiative has not solved the problem completely: “This is a positive step in the right direction to deterring potential offenders from accessing indecent images of children on the internet. While the Bing project isn’t the whole solution, I hope it goes some way to making those curious about searching for indecent images think again.”

It has been confirmed that both Google and Yahoo are planning on taking similar action against online child abuse. A spokesperson for Yahoo confirmed that the company has “a zero tolerance policy when it comes to child abuse images online,” and added that their “governance and safety teams work hand-in-hand with the product, engineering, and customer care teams to remove these illegal images.”

While Google does not plan to install the same notification feature on its search engine, it insisted that it will continue to report abusive and illegal content: “We use purpose-built technology and work with child safety organisations to find, remove and report it because we never want this material to appear in our search results,” a company representative declared.

Twitter is known to have received the highest number of requests for restricting their online abuse after feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez has recently received an alarming number of threatening tweets. Ms Perez became a target of social networking abuse after she successfully campaigned for a woman personality’s face to be featured on the new £10 bank note, receiving nearly 50 abusive tweets every hour.

She reported them to the Metropolitan Police, who detained a 21-year-old man in Manchester, on suspicion of Internet abuse offences. He was arrested and later released on bail.

After receiving a record number of complaints from feminist campaigners, and being the subject of an online petition which gathered over twelve thousands signatures, Twitter ensured that a report abuse button would be available on each of their tweet updates.

A Twitter spokesperson noted “the ability to report individual tweets for abuse is currently available on Twitter for iPhone, and we plan to bring this functionality to other platforms, including Android and the web.”  He confirmed that Twitter will immediately suspend the accounts that are found to be in breach of their terms and conditions and that each user is strongly encouraged to report any unusual behaviour on their social network by simply filling a report form.

Although the newly implemented measures are thought to be highly effective upon Internet companies and Social Networking websites, it is also widely known that the issue of social networking crime was relatively minor a few years ago, with only 550 reports being made in 2008, a number that has escalated to almost 5,000 in 2012. It is of  tremendous importance, therefore, that Internet providers continue to put their best efforts in protecting their users from online harassment.

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