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
    kristyn bernier, 7 Feb 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 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

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