Children, Online Risks and Facts

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There’s an interesting (and long!) “Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States.” Michael Froomkin summarizes the summary.” Adam Thierer was a member of the task force, and has extensive commentary on the primary online safety issue today is peer-on-peer cyber-harassment, not adult [sexual] predation, along with a great link roundup. Kim Zetter at Wired gives unfortunate credence to hyperbolic claims by some attorneys general that “harsh reality defies the statistical academic research underlying the report.” Uh huh. I’m glad Richard Blumenthal knows the truthy, and isn’t going to let facts stand in his way. I’m less glad that Wired chose to portray that as a ‘controversy.’ I’d call it an embarrassment to the state of Connecticut.

8 Comments on "Children, Online Risks and Facts"


  1. In other news, kids get beat up, hassled, harassed, and picked on more by other kids than they do by adults when they’re off-line, too. That’s why smart parents make sure their kids know not just about the relatively rare “stranger danger”, but about how to stick up for (and defend) themselves among their peers.


  2. The news media’s concept of “balance” is to always present two opposing sides, and to make no attempt to determine what the actual truth is. That way neither side can accuse them of bias.


  3. The S. Carolina AG said that the report’s findings “are as disturbing as they are wrong” and are not consistent with actual data from their state on internet predators. His letter contains some actual numbers that you may want to look at.
    I agreed with the report’s conclusions on age verification technology, but felt that the comparisons to offline risks were somewhat self-serving. So what if online harassment occurs less frequently than offline harassment? If it’s occurring online, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. So what if the kids who are at most risk online are the same kids who would be at most risk offline? If they’re at risk online, you’ve created additional opportunities for them to be harmed. So what if adult-child solicitation is less frequent than minor-to-minor solicitation? We do not need to confine ourselves to dealing only with the “greatest threat.” We should be addressing all of the different types of threats. And that should have been the take-home message. Instead, it tended to get diluted by the “we’re not as bad as offline, or chat, or IM” and “adult solicitation is not that common” message.
    I also think the report’s focus on “education and empowerment” is misplaced. We’ve known for 15 years about the rates of bullying in schools and that middle school is absolutely the worst in some respects, but that knowledge and numerous programs provided in schools, to parents, and to students, hasn’t made a significant dent in the problem. Now the problem has moved online, and the SAG’s are understandably looking to the social networking sites to do something about their piece of the problem. Issuing a report that suggests that there’s not a big problem begs the question, “How many kids have to be harmed before you’ll consider it a big problem?”


  4. Dissent, I don’t think it’s that people don’t think it’s a problem. But given that we have limited resources to spend on protecting children, where should we spend them? Internet safety gets a lot of attention and that makes it seem like a big problem, but if there are other areas that are in fact bigger threats to children we should perhaps be spending our money there instead.
    Remember, too, that trying to solve a problem always has unintended side effects, and if the problem is actually a rare one the cure can be worse than the disease. For example, a lot of emphasis has been put on “stranger danger” as a way to prevent child abductions. As a result, parents are afraid to allow their children to walk to school or play outside. As a result of THAT, their kids get no exercise and are obese. This in spite of the fact that most abductions and sexual assaults are carried out by family members, not strangers. So in trying to protect kids from a rare threat (abduction/assault by a stranger) we’ve exposed them to a much more common one (obesity-related illness.)


  5. @Dissent –
    “His letter contains some actual numbers that you may want to look at.”
    Those numbers do nothing to refute the report, and aren’t particularly useful without anything to compare them to.
    Pete


  6. David: you raise an interesting point about stranger danger and walking to school/obesity, but I don’t buy the argument that this is a case of allocation of limited resources. We are not talking about allocating public funds. We are talking about a profit-making business that markets to youth ensuring that they provide a safe environment for youth.
    If a small risk exists at an amusement park, we expect the park to have safety measures and protections in place. We expect bars to check for age and to cut off people if they’ve had too much to drink. Some may feel that we shouldn’t have such laws, but what is being suggested here is no different than what we expect in other situations.
    As to your example, I should tell you that one of my kids was the target of an attempted abduction by two male adults in a van as she walked home from elementary school one day by herself. So I’m probably not the best person to make the “rare” argument to — even one is too many.


  7. Pete: There is a difference between reading that something is “rare” and then thinking in terms of concrete numbers of cases. “Rare” doesn’t sound that bad. Thinking of 147 kids in just one state alone who may have been harmed makes it harder to dismiss the problem.
    We may have to agree to disagree on this one. I was not happy with the report as it appears to excuse the sites from taking more responsibility. The problem was not with their data. It was with the way they interpreted it and couched their conclusions. And on that, I agree with Kim Z. that the report is “controversial.”


  8. @Dissent: I get your point, but just because funds are being provided by the private sector doesn’t make them unlimited.
    You also seem to feel that this is something that can be solved trivially, but it isn’t. Age verification online is much harder than it is at a brick-and-mortar business — and even brick-and-mortar businesses aren’t very good at it, as evidenced by how easily teenagers manage to obtain alcohol. It’s particularly problematic for sites that don’t accept credit cards; they essentially have to resort to having users mail in photocopies of their driver’s licenses, which is labor intensive and raises ID theft concerns.

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