Twitter 'failing' on child abuse, Ceop watchdog warns

Mark Williams-Thomas, a former detective and child protection expert has been investigating how paedophiles have been using Twitter accounts

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Twitter's child protection policies are lagging behind other social networking websites, a watchdog has warned.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) has urged Twitter to address its fears that some paedophiles use the site to discuss abuse and link to pornographic images.

Twitter said safety was a high priority and it acted immediately on complaints of inappropriate behaviour.

Twitter users can report accounts in breach of its child protection policy.

But former detective Mark Williams-Thomas, who works as a child protection expert, claims some users have still been active on the site days or even weeks after they have been reported to the firm.

"There is always going to be a problem with social networking sites, because where there is an opportunity offenders will seek that out," says Mr Williams-Thomas.

"Clearly what Twitter needs to do is to take responsibility for its users. And when they identify there is somebody promoting child abuse material, swapping it or even discussing it the site must come down straight away."

In a statement, Twitter insisted it dealt with complaints as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

"When we receive a report and identify it as valid, we take action immediately," said Del Harvey, Twitter's Director of Trust and Safety.

'A bit behind'

"Accounts being reported may be the subject of law enforcement investigations.

"In those instances, while the profiles are certainly disturbing, removing them immediately can actually harm the cases that law enforcement may be attempting to build."

The company says it plans within the next few months to have a team working 24 hours a day in order to investigate complaints.

Facebook and Bebo have both worked with Ceop to introduce so-called panic buttons, allowing users to report their concerns by simply clicking a single link.

However, Twitter users need to search the site for an email address to report accounts that are causing concern.

"They are a little bit behind some other sites that have been around a little bit longer," says Peter Davies, the chief executive of Ceop.

"These people who have an unhealthy interest in child abuse images occupy a lot of different space on the internet - while they are allowed to be in that space.

"I think that's got to be wrong."

There are also fears that some paedophiles have attempted to contact young teenagers through their Twitter accounts.

Ceop says that issue of online grooming in an industry-wide problem.

Twitter relies on users to report accounts that breach its policies on child protection.

But Mark Williams-Thomas believes that is a problem when privacy settings allow account-holders to hide their conversations from everyone but their followers.

"Clearly you can communicate whatever you want within a protected profile," he says.

However, Twitter says it works with police and organisations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the US to ensure users acting illegally are prosecuted.

Anyone with concerns about a Twitter user can report the account by sending details to 'cp@twitter.com'.

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