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Facebook upgrades safety and security tools

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"What's My Teen Doing on Facebook?" Find out in the Family Safety Center!

In a discussion hosted on Facebook Live today, the social network's safety team introduced its new suite of safety tools, with resources specifically designed for families and educators.

Most notably, the redesigned Family Safety Center  addresses concerns parents might (and should) have about their children accessing Facebook, as well as the Internet. This is the latest step in Facebook's effort to move away from complaints about confusing and unintuitive policies and site architecture, and it's a big one.

True enough, the Family Safety Center is couched in a lot of "nothing is more important to us than your safety," public relations happy talk that makes the more jaded among us cringe (Facebook is a business after all, and not your mom and/or BFF). But it also provides a clear path through Facebook's Terms and Community Standards we often fail to take responsibility for on our own, even when it concerns our kids.  

Topics in the Family Safety Center are clearly defined with headlines and simple icon/illustrations familiar to anyone who has spent any time on "Family Resources" type websites.  While basic information about online safety and security isn't much different than that offered by say, McGruff the Crime Dog, it handily appears on the site parents are most worried about. We're more likely to access the info if we don't have to leave the site.

Issues specific to using Facebook are offered up in links so easy to follow, a child could do it. Facebook's Family Safety Center also features links to Internet security news stories from outets such as the Washington Post and Huffington Post. So grown-ups, you really have no excuse not to educate yourself.

(Note: When it comes to your Facebook privacy settings, your best bet is to cross-reference the objective recommendations offered by the ACLU's DotRights.org and/or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.) 

Here's how the Family Safety Center breaks down your responsibilities in the section titled Philosophy: Safety Is a Conversation:

Your Part

Staying safe online is a lot like staying safe offline. Whether you’re walking down the street or connecting with friends on Facebook, it’s important to keep a few key safety precautions in mind. Use the information and links in our Safety Center to learn more about the tools available to you, and share that knowledge with people you know.

What You Can Do

Links to audience-specific advice and information appear on almost every page in the Family Safety Center and include:

  • Parents: "For years, teenagers spent much of their free time talking to friends on the phone. Today’s teens aren't so different. They just have more ways to communicate."
  • Teens: "How you present yourself on Facebook says a lot about who you are — just like what you say and do at school or with your friends. In all public places, online and off, it’s important to represent yourself as the kind of person you want to be."
  • Teachers: "Technology is all around us, and your students don’t stop using cell phones and social media when they get to school. Both in and out of the classroom, teachers can play an important role in keeping teens safe."
  • The Law: "Facebook strives to both respect peoples’ privacy and be a good partner to law enforcement."

Today's security and safety rollout also noted on another oft-complained about feature on Facebook: The social reporting tool. Upgraded in March, it now offers "a new way of reporting content on Facebook that allows people to notify a member of their community, in addition to Facebook, when they see something they don’t like," the Facebook Safety blog describes.

When reporting content to Facebook via the report buttons, users now have the option of sending that report to another Facebook friend at the same time. How does that help, you ask? The Facebook Safety Blog explains:

We encourage people on Facebook to use the report buttons located across our site to let us know if they find content that violates our terms of use so we can take it down. But taking down harassing online comments won’t necessarily help people solve the underlying problem in the offline world. Social reporting is a way for people to quickly and easily ask for help from someone they trust. Safety and child psychology experts tell us that online issues are frequently a reflection of what is happening offline. By encouraging people to seek help from friends, we hope that many of these situations can be resolved face to face.

You can translate this artful use of positive and neutral language  to this: Facebook wants you to take responsibility for your own mess. And you should. Facebook historically addresses offensive content and actively works with law enforcement when necessary, but expecting the site to address personal feuds, local crime or imminent danger discovered by something posted on the social network is unrealistic and more importantly, irresponsible. It's a social network, not 911.

Other Facebook advanced security features highlighted today:

Factor Authentication. This new feature helps prevent unauthorized access to your account. If you turn this new feature on, Facebook will ask you to enter a code anytime you try to log in from a new device. This additional security helps confirm that it's really you trying to log in.

A secure connection using HTTPSThis feature helps protect your personal information and is particularly useful if you're uncertain about the security of your network or you're using public WiFi to access Facebook. Now, HTTPS is being improved so if you start using a non-HTTPS application on Facebook, it will automatically switch your session back to HTTPS when you're finished.

More on the annoying way we live now:

Helen A.S. Popkin is always going "blah blah blah" about online privacy, then she asks you to join her on Facebook and/or Twitter … because that's how she rolls.