Social networking sites Facebook and MySpace have been criticised by the UK law enforcement agency for not doing enough to protect their users from the threat of online grooming and bullying.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) has criticised the sites for not integrating a universal “help button” into their site design which allows users to report examples of online bullying or concerns over potential grooming, where individuals attempt to hide their true identity and befriend younger users before arranging to meet with them.

The button can also be used to report examples of hacking or potential phishing scams.

Jim Gamble, from Ceop, claimed that there was “no legitimate reason” why the sites could not follow the example of rival Bebo, which has adopted the button. A spokesman for Facebook claimed that user safety was its “top priority”.

Ceop is responsible for tracing online sex offenders in the UK and claims to receive as many as 10,000 reports a month from other sites which host the button, which can connect users to specially trained Ceop officers for advice as well as providing links to local police advice and, government information sources and children’s charities.

Mr Gamble claimed: “Children can contact us if they are worried, they fear about someone’s intentions.

“Parents can be reassured because they know this environment is appropriately managed, with engagement with authorities ranging from the police service, including Ceop, right the way through to Childline online.

“And the predator, the person that goes on with harmful intent – whether it’s the bully or whether it’s the paedophile – they know when they see it that there is an active deterrent here.”

He added: “I am applauding Bebo – it’s taken us three years to get here. But I don’t understand – and there is more than Facebook in this – I don’t understand the logic for the others not following suit.”

But Facebook said that it did work with authorities around the world to protect users, but said it would communicate with Bebo to judge the value of the button.

“The safety of Facebook users is the top priority for the company, which is why we have invested in the most robust reporting system to support our 300 million users.

“We also work closely with police forces in the UK and around the world to create a safe environment. Our teams are manned by trained staff in two continents giving 24-hour support in 70 languages.

“We look forward to hearing about the experience of Bebo using the Ceop button and will take account of their experience in any future evaluation of our reporting systems.”

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