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
    John, 7 Feb 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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