Tech

Facebook porn, animal-cruelty hacks spark parent concerns

Last week’s Facebook hack, which placed hardcore pornographic images and scenes of animal cruelty at the front and center of users’ news feeds, prompted outrage among users that reverberated throughout the blogosphere, raising the specter of a potential mass exodus from the social network.

For child online safety advocate Mary Kay Hoal, the attack was a further reminder for parents with children on Facebook to be vigilant.

The spam attack, which exploited a weakness in Web browsers, hit news feeds on Nov. 14; Facebook reportedly did not address it fully for 48 hours. Many upset Facebook users turned to Twitter to express their outrage; some threatened to deactivate their accounts.

“Seeing a dead dog on my Facebook newsfeed … Officially deactivating it,” said one user.

Blogosphere speculation about the culprit immediately turned to Anonymous, the hacktivist collective which has made a name for itself by attacking the websites of large corporations, banks and governments. While the group’s leaderless nature allows for the right hand to not know what the left hand is up to, security experts familiar with the group’s tactics maintain that the hack was not the work of Anonymous.

“Protecting the people who use Facebook from spam and malicious content is a top priority for us,” said Facebook spokesperson Andrew Noyes in a statement following the event. “That’s why when we experienced a spam attack last week, our team responded quickly to eliminate most of the spam caused by this incident.”

Facebook has launched new security features this year to improve cyber security and child online safety. Throughout October, also known as National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Facebook sponsored a series of panel discussions to address cyber security concerns and educate users about the company’s new safety tools.

“We are now working to improve our systems to better defend against similar attacks in the future,” Noyes added. “In addition to the engineering teams that build tools to block spam, we also have a dedicated enforcement team that has identified many of the responsible parties and we will ensure appropriate action will be taken against those responsible.”

Mary Kay Hoal, founder and president of the kids-only social network Yoursphere.com, told The Daily Caller, “Young or old, adult or child, [the images] were disturbing.”

Most cyber security experts agree that no computer network is completely impenetrable. Hoal, whose work involves social networking and Internet safety education for families, said maintaining safety on computers is different from similar work on more public social networks like Facebook.

“With the family computer, you can buy software that can filter and block sites,” said Hoal. “There is not that filter to protect children from what happens in mainstream adult intended social networks.”

Social media is still in its infancy, and Hoal likened the learning curve to that of automobile safety and safe sex. More government regulation, however, is not the answer child online safety concerns, she told TheDC.

The Child Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 already requires website operators to protect the privacy of children under 13. COPPA gives the Federal Trade Commission the authority to issue and enforce regulations, and encourages industry self-regulation. The FTC fined the blogging website Xanga $1 million dollars in 2006 for repeatedly allowing children under 13 to create accounts on its site.

COPPA, Hoal said, merely forces children to lie about their age in order to participate on an adult oriented social network like Facebook.

“If you wait for the government, it won’t happen,” Hoal said about protecting children from objectionable online content. “We have a federal law that has been in place for over a decade, and it hasn’t been enforced.”

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