Facebook’s new ‘secret messaging’ service

Will Facebook’s new ‘secret messaging’ service aid perpetrators with grooming and make it even harder for friends and family to spot the signs?

Private messages that can disappear are being trialled by Facebook as it experiments with a new option for those using its Messenger app. They become hidden after a certain period of time chosen by the author, the firm said. (source)

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Let’s start with some facts:

  • Research by the NSPCC has identified that 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused, 90% of them by someone they knew. However, of the 43,000 children in England who are subject to a child protection plan at any given time, only around 5% are on a plan for sexual abuse. (NSPCC 2014).
  • More than one in three children (34%) who experienced contact sexual abuse by an adult did not tell anyone else about it. (NSPCC 2014).
  • Four out of five children (82.7%) who experienced contact sexual abuse from a peer did not tell anyone else about it. (NSPCC 2014).

Worrying statistics and research which unfortunately don’t seem to be changing for the better. The real concern is the amount of CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation) victims who cannot speak out for multiple reasons, normally a mixture of shame, feeling scared and many other aspects that ‘force’ victims to keep everything to themselves.

Back to Facebook’s ‘Secret Message’ service which is being trialled. Currently it’s in an experimental stage with aims of being more widely available in the summer.

What does this mean for victims that are currently part of the Grooming process?
This will give the victim the opportunity to hide messages and pictures from friends and loved ones. By no fault of their own, they’ll be making it even harder for people to spot the signs at that all important early stage of Child Sexual Exploitation.

What security or safeguards will Facebook have in place?
“Facebook will never have access to plain text messages unless one participant in a secret conversation voluntarily reports the conversation,” (Plain text messages: All of the text in the conversation)
So unless a message is reported, nobody apart from the 2 people in conversation will be able to see the messages.

A child being groomed is unlikely to report anything as they bound to secrecy usually through blackmail, emotional attachment, not believing they are victims and many other factors.

An ‘Upside’ to this new feature is the fact that Video’s and GIFs cannot be shared secretly at the moment. Meaning it is possible for this to be available in the future. Again, there will be so many negatives to this feature including sharing indecent content which can be used as blackmail in the future.

Are there any benefits to this new feature?
The answer is yes.

The whole ‘Secret message’ feature may open a window for victims to speak out in a confidential way to friends and family members. The whole idea of messages being secret to the sender and the receiver, plus the option for them to be deleted at any chosen time or date will give victims a great deal of confidentiality when talking about their experience.

Summary
Until there is more information on the new service we are limited to what we can be say about the security and how it will work in relation to grooming and the control aspect of CSE. There are both positives and negatives to the new service however do some negatives outweigh the positives? We’d love to hear your thoughts.