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Sunday 16 December 2018

Social media moderators should undergo child protection training following undercover probe controversy - Katherine Zappone

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone Picture: Steve Humphreys
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone Picture: Steve Humphreys
Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Picture: COLIN O’RIORDAN
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has said staff who moderate content on all social media websites should undergo child protection training offered by Tusla.

Ms Zappone made the call amid the storm of controversy over Facebook.

An investigation by Channel 4's Dispatches programme found disturbing posts, including violent videos involving assaults on children, remained on Facebook after being reported by users and reviewed by moderators. It featured an undercover reporter who went to work at CPL Resources, which acts as Facebook's largest centre for UK content moderation.

Ms Zappone said safeguarding best practice procedures for organisations are set out in the State's Children First National Guidance. She said Tusla, the child and family agency, offers training in the area.

Ms Zappone called on all social media providers to ensure their moderator and subcontractor staff undertake Children First training. She suggested this could be done through Tusla online training.

Almost 170,000 childcare professionals, teachers, medical professionals, gardai and social workers have completed this course. The Independent TD said: "These people are now better equipped to work with children and spot the signs when something is wrong. I would urge social media companies to allow their staff to do the same."

Ms Zappone said it could help end the "bad practice" highlighted in recent days.

Earlier last week, Facebook mounted a defence of its policies after the investigation.

Siobhan Cummiskey, a public policy manager at Facebook, said "in the vast majority of circumstances" content involving violence against a child was removed. She said there were narrow exceptions where leaving the post online could help bring the child to safety. Facebook also passes on information to law enforcement agencies so they can take steps to help the child. It has a "zero-tolerance" policy for child exploitation images.

Last night, a spokesperson for Facebook said creating a safe environment for its users was the company's "top priority" and they would be "happy for Tusla to come in and talk to our content reviewers".

"All our content review teams are trained in how to recognise child exploitation imagery. We welcome close collaboration between industry, experts and government to address the important issue of child safety, many of whom we have strong working relationships with," they added.

A spokesperson for CPL Resources said the organisation "fully supports" the Children First initiative and said the company "has trained over 700 people in child protection, incorporating Children First".

The spokesperson insisted CPL Resources "employs best practice across all of its processes, including relevant training for all its employees".

They said CPL has carefully noted the issues raised on the Dispatches programme and "in conjunction with Facebook, took immediate action to address these". The statement said this has included refresher training conducted by Facebook personnel "to ensure our relevant employees remain up-to-date with Facebook policy and its implementation".

Communications Minister Denis Naughten met Facebook Ireland executives last Thursday and expressed his "disgust" at the revelations.

His officials are to meet representatives of Facebook again tomorrow. The social media company is to deliver a presentation of their review of the matter and provide detail of the steps they're taking to address the issues raised in the Channel 4 programme.

The Government has come under pressure over the lack of a timeline in its Action Plan for Online Safety for the appointment of a Digital Safety Commissioner (DSC) which had been promised by Mr Naughten as early as this year.

The new office would have powers to get tech companies to remove content from their site. There is said to be "jurisdictional and other legal issues" in relation to the DSC that require greater scrutiny.

Fianna Fail children spokesperson Anne Rabbitte said the appointment of a DSC was a most pressing issue in the wake of the Dispatches programme. She said: "It is no longer acceptable to allow internet giants to 'regulate' themselves."

Sunday Independent

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