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.
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Filed Under: attorneys general, internet safety, stats

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 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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