London: Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter cannot be trusted to protect children`s ‘online safety’, and must be independently regulated, a government child safety adviser has warned.
John Carr, a board member of the UK Council for Child internet Safety, said that in the wake of "scandals" such as the exposé of sexualised content on children`s social network Habbo Hotel, he believed self-regulation was "a big con".
“At the moment the whole notion of self-regulation is hanging in the balance. That`s a pity because if brands were smart, it`s definitely got its advantages to keep things away from government,” The Telegraph quoted Carr, as saying.
“You don`t want parliament jumping in and passing laws, you don`t want Ofcom making regulations if you can possibly avoid it but I`m afraid that`s really the way we`re going because the companies in my opinion have been too short-sighted,” he added.
According to the paper, Habbo Hotel, a virtual world in which children create avatars and furnish their own digital hotel room, hit the headlines in June when an investigation revealed that children using the site were being befriended by users and were being invited to use webcams and Skype to perform sex acts.
Habbo Hotel said at the time they employed more than 225 moderators to track conversations on a 24-hour basis.
However, Carr said companies cannot be trusted to moderate sites themselves.
"I`m increasingly coming to the view that it [self-regulation] is all a big con. At no point in the UK or in Europe have we ever had any independent mechanisms to monitor whether companies who have signed up to voluntary codes of practice or say they are going to behave in a particular way, are in fact doing so,” he said.
Facebook, the leading social network with 901 milion users, does not allow anyone under 13 to sign up. However, studies suggest that 7.5 million children lie about their age in order to join, with more than five million of those aged under 10, the paper said.