State Attorneys General Trash Internet Safety Study, But Still Can't Provide Data To Counter It

from the maybe-it's-not-such-a-big-threat-after-all dept

Last month, a wide-ranging panel of experts did a big study and found out that the risks of online predators stalking kids on social networks was totally overhyped -- something that we'd seen in previous studies, though none as wide-ranging and comprehensive. These results shocked and upset the group of 49 state attorneys general who have been pushing hard to force social networks to implement a variety of mechanisms to "protect" against this threat that really isn't that big. It's not surprising that these AGs want to push this. It makes it look like they're doing something to "protect the children," at little cost to themselves. The public imagination, helped along by politicians and the press, have been falsely led to believe that these sites are crawling with child predators tricking children, but the truth is that such cases are extremely rare. That's not to play down the seriousness of the few cases where it happens, but it's hardly a major epidemic.

Still, the state AGs were none too pleased with the report's results, and some of the more vocal social network haters have been trashing it for using out-dated data. Of course, these AGs haven't actually provided the up-to-date data that contradicts the report's findings. So, one well-respected online safety researcher, Nancy Willard, went out and found some recent data to look at. Adam Thierer summarizes her findings -- but the quick version is that the recent data does, in fact, support the study's original conclusion: there just isn't that much predatorial behavior happening on social networks. In fact, the report found that general chat rooms were much more risky than social networks. The key point:
The incidents of online sexual predation are rare. Far more children and teens are being sexually abused by family members and acquaintances. It is imperative that we remain focused on the issue of child sexual abuse -- regardless of how the abusive relationship is initiated.
Focusing on social networks as being a problem is taking away resources from where the real threats are... all in an effort for some AGs to get some easy headlines.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 2:38pm

    But this is so much cheaper and easier

    It's just so much easier to claim victory by doing nothing, except for insisting that online social networks police themselves for the rare online child predator. Compare that to the difficulty of actually going out and arresting and trying a child molester. Thus, the AGs need a report that says the problem is social networks, so they can come down on social networks. They don't want a report that says the problem is child molesters, not social networks, because then they'd have to work to find and bring to justice the actual child molesters.

    It's so much easier to do some pointless chest-thumping, than it is do some actual work. And let's face it, this kind of crap has worked on the American public for decades.

     

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  2.  
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    Gabriel, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 3:24pm

    Reminds me of the "politician's syllogism" from that great British TV show "Yes Minister":

    We must do something!
    This is something.
    Therefore, we must do this!

     

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  3.  
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    Mr Big Content, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 4:18pm

    Liberal-Biased Science

    This is what happens when you hire folks who think they have a mandate to go off and do so-called independent research. You just can’t trust people like that. Listen up: YOU WERE NOT SUPPOSED TO COME UP WITH THIS ANSWER! They should be made to go away and do the research again, as many times as it takes, until they come up with the right answer. That will teach them to think “independently”.

     

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  4.  
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    Wolfy, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 4:38pm

    Re: Liberal-Biased Science

    Reminds me of the "studies" done by the Gov't. to "prove" marijuana was bad for you.

     

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  5.  
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    ToySouljah, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 5:12pm

    Re: Re: Liberal-Biased Science

    lmao to both comments :)

    I guess it's like Goebbel said "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." Not too sure of the actual German translation, but you get the gist.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2009 @ 5:12pm

    In the book "Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear" there is a good description of where the ominous 50,000 pedophiles number comes from. Apparently someone just pulled it out of their . . . um . . . assumptions, and it was then repeated so often and by so many persons in authority that it became "a well-known" fact, but there is no report or research whatsoever that supports the figure.
    Remember that 88.3% of statistics are invented on the spot to support a theory that either has no verified statistics or that can't support itself. ;)
    I suspect the reason there is no data supporting the predator lurking in every chat room philosophy is that there aren't really enough predators to go around.
    If the AGs want to back their programs, they need to make more sex offenders (oh, oops, they are already doing that) and see to it they are unemployed (trashing their reputation so they lose their jobs--oops again) so they have enough time to patiently deceive enough little kiddies (oh, flaw in the plan there--the drunks urinating in public and the girls taking their own pictures don't have the patience to chat with police pretending to be little kids who can't even type the whole word "you") to make the new laws look useful.

     

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  7.  
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    Parenting 101, Feb 7th, 2009 @ 2:07am

    Lets not get away from the point here...

    While I agree with the majority of what has been said here, what I cannot and will not agree with (although its not been said explicitly here) is that this is such a small issue its not worth dealing with.

    Mike said "That's not to play down the seriousness of the few cases where it happens, but it's hardly a major epidemic." Why does it need to reach epidemic proportions before something gets done?

    Who here would say that its acceptable for a handful of kids to become victims of sexual predators as long as the majority are ok? Is one abuse victim not one too many?

    As I say, I agree that this is mostly a case of the AG's grandstanding for publicity and taking the easy option of attacking social networking sites without due cause. But please lets not forget that "some" kids do become victims and that that is unacceptable.

    The problem as I see it, and it has been made before, is the focus should be only those guilty of the abuses. Lets spend more time/money/effort on finding and punishing those guilty of crimes and less time scare-mongering and one-up-manship.

    I know a person who was groomed and abused as a child, by a stranger not a family member, and I hate the idea of anyone having to go through such an ordeal.

    So, please, lets not miss the point, lets tackle the problem, the abusers, and keep our kids safe. Please.

    (And before I get shouted, no, I dont work for any political office. I'm a parent of two great kids and I dont want them to get hurt. Also, I'm not in the US. The problem of abuse here in the UK is the same as it is in any other country.)

     

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  8.  
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    John, Feb 7th, 2009 @ 4:51am

    The Problem

    I think the problem nowadays is the idea that "we must do something." Surely the horrible crimes that undoubtedly happen are nothing to be overlooked. Horrible, unspeakable things have happened to children at the behest of disgustingly sick individuals. The problem is that society is punishing as many people as possible, who may have only been part of the tiniest sexually-related crime (streaking, statutory "rape") with the same degree of punishment (applying the title "registered sex offender" across the board) as someone who did something truly horrible like raping a 5-year old (also deemed "registered sex offender"), with the collective intent of "well we have to do SOMTETHING". The fact that there are so many of these RSO's "lurking around every corner" gives the appearance that it is much more of a serious problem than it actually is. If they removed the low-level offenders, people who honestly, earnestly made one stupid mistake in their lives, like having consensual sex with an underage girl, then the whole thing would fall apart. It wouldn't be "my neighborhood has sex offender chicken-pox". It would be one guy here, one guy there, and there would be no need for the whole god-forsaken "list" anymore. Just my thoughts.

     

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  9.  
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    kristyn bernier, Feb 7th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

    an opposing view

    As a detective who works undercover internet cases and sexual assault cases, and who works daily with victims of internet child exploitation, my biggest issue with this study was that no one who actually works in this field was used on the panel. It was comprised of internet businesses. No victims were interviewed, nor were perps. Hmmm...

    Funny that MySpace just kicked off 90,000 registered sex offenders. Guess what, they missed all the perverts out there who don't use their real name but are sex offenders against children. Jump on some of the sites and see what a target rich environment it is. Of the 565,000 convicted sex offenders who are out of jail, 125,000 are non-compliant (we don't know where they are) - these are the ones that were caught and convicted. Rapists and child molesters don't rehabilitate and are in a high recidivism category. Many have multiple victims before they are caught. The Internet, when not properly supervised by parents, makes victimization so much easier than hanging out on a playground.

    For those of you out there who have never worked in this field, continue to sit in your naive glass houses and pretend this stuff doesn't exist. Try throwing your negative comments at the parent whose child was the victim...like parents of over 200 kids who were victimized in New England by a soccer coach who set the fake MySpace account up. Yup he catalogued the pics and now this child porn is God only knows where out there being collected by other freaks. Or maybe the 12 year old girl I just interviewed who was molested by a guy she met online, or the kid abducted by a guy she met playing an online game (yeah he was planning on killing her but got caught first). Yes parents need to take responsibility as do the deviants, but if parents aren't made aware that there is an issue, who is going to watch out for these kids? Downplaying it does not keep the potential dangers of the Internet in the forefront of a parent's mind.

    Studies mean nothing to the person who is the victim or the family of the victim, and quite frankly, I have no faith in research that "follows the money" or that fails to look at victims or predators. Go read some sex offender treatment files on some of the perps convicted using the internet and then come talk to me.

    Det. Kristyn Bernier
    www.cybercrimefighters.biz

     

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  10.  
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    JW Morrison, Feb 8th, 2009 @ 12:07pm

    Making political hay

    As a father who has had daughters molested I understand the devastation that is left behind after such action. My experience is not from internet interactions. However, I also know that if you continually ignore the constitution and pass laws that supposedly 'protect' children you will ultimately hurt everyone, especially children.

    As we continue to make it impossible for a sex offender to change himself and return to being a productive member of society we only endanger children more. For those of you who think that sex offenders cannot change then I would have you look into the statistical proof where treated sex offenders have an extremely low rate of re offense.

    Drunk drivers do more damage to children for life than do sex offenders yet there are no DUI registries. Why not? Because DUI convictions hit closer to home than sex offender convictions. If society continues with this punishment kick soon they will ensure that those who offend leave no witnesses behind. How many children will suffer the ultimate price? Or when will we make every crime a registrable offense?

    Where is common sense?

    These politicians always uses people, and in this case, children, to further their careers rather than actually do something that will keep us safe. Their policies will one day increase prison population to 2% then 3% of the population. Most people would rather just shoot a sex offender instead of locking him up. Most people accused of sex offenses are automatically convicted by society before their trial, and there are many that are accused that are not guilty.

    To protect children parents must insert themselves into the lives of their children because, ultimately, their interaction and knowledge of their children will do more to protect than anything politicians will ever do.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2009 @ 3:39pm

    Re: Lets not get away from the point here...

    Who here would say that its acceptable for a handful of kids to become victims of sexual predators as long as the majority are ok? Is one abuse victim not one too many?

    Thanks for pointing this out. Furthermore, some kids are sexually abused by their parents. Not all, but some, and that's too many. Therefore, all kids should be taken away from their parents (by your reasoning). Just as a precaution because, you know, you can never be too careful. If you have kids, we should start with yours first.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2009 @ 4:22pm

    Re: an opposing view

    As a detective who works undercover internet cases and sexual assault cases, and who works daily with victims of internet child exploitation, my biggest issue with this study was that no one who actually works in this field was used on the panel.

    As someone who makes their living off people's fears about this, you're upset that the panel wasn't composed of like minded people with vested interests fanning the flames. No surprise.

    Of the 565,000 convicted sex offenders who are out of jail, 125,000 are non-compliant (we don't know where they are) - these are the ones that were caught and convicted. Rapists and child molesters don't rehabilitate and are in a high recidivism category.

    The truth is, many of those people were of convicted of something like peeing in an alley behind a bar one night when they were drunk and now they're "sex offenders" for the rest of their lives. And sex offenders have a lower recidivism rate than people convicted of other crimes on average, not higher. But let's not let the truth get in the way here, that won't get you any promotions will it? I mean, even the Supreme Court has ruled that it's OK for police to lie, so why not?

    Now if you want to start point out examples, I think I could find a few example of police using firearms to kill innocent people. So how about we take your gun away before you kill some innocent child? Lady, I think that badge and gun have gone to your head.

    Go read some sex offender treatment files on some of the perps convicted using the internet and then come talk to me.

    I just did.

     

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  13.  
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    Mike (profile), Feb 8th, 2009 @ 4:52pm

    Re: Lets not get away from the point here...

    Mike said "That's not to play down the seriousness of the few cases where it happens, but it's hardly a major epidemic." Why does it need to reach epidemic proportions before something gets done?

    It doesn't need to reach epidemic proportions, but the response MUST be reasonable compared to the threat. What AGs are trying to do will completely stifle certain services all for what is barely a problem and *can* be dealt with through more precise means.

     

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  14.  
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    Mike (profile), Feb 8th, 2009 @ 5:02pm

    Re: an opposing view

    As a detective who works undercover internet cases and sexual assault cases, and who works daily with victims of internet child exploitation, my biggest issue with this study was that no one who actually works in this field was used on the panel. It was comprised of internet businesses. No victims were interviewed, nor were perps. Hmmm...

    Um. That's not even close to true. WiredSafety, Enough Is Enough, ConnectSafely, the Family Online Safety Institute, iKeepSafe, and even the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were all a part of the study.

    Are you honestly claiming that these organizations, who deal with such victims every day had no input into the study results?

    Who are you kidding?

    Jump on some of the sites and see what a target rich environment it is.

    Did you even bother to read the research that was actually QUOTED above in the article. The researcher went and looked for ACTUAL EVIDENCE of kids being targeted on these sites, and found VERY, VERY LITTLE. You can scare up as many bogeymen quotes as you want, but the evidence suggests it's just not happening.

     

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  15.  
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    any, Feb 9th, 2009 @ 12:20pm

    Re: Parenting 101 - grow up and get a life

    "Who here would say that its acceptable for a handful of kids to become victims of sexual predators as long as the majority are ok? Is one abuse victim not one too many?"

    So if there is one example of a teacher abusing a child then we should outlaw teachers? If one 'Uncle' abuses a child then we should pass laws that prevent 'Uncles' from being around their nephews/nieces, right? If there is one Religious figure who has abused children, then we should pass laws that prevent children from being around religious figures (I would support this one, but only because religion is another form of societal control similar to politics).

    Just because someone can do something bad with an existing tool, does that mean that we have to pass laws regulating the use of that specific tool, rather than going after the ones actually breaking the law? I'm sure phones have been used by pedophiles to contact their victims, lets pass laws making it illegal for people to call children....

    How extreme do we need to get before people realize that it's the PEOPLE who are the problem, NOT THE TOOLS....

     

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