I just got back from a trip to the east coast. I presented a full day workshop on cyberbullying in Rochester NY (275+ folks) and then a briefing that was supposed to be for congressional staff in DC, but was attended by the DC policy wonks, not staff. Then two presentations at a conference in Maryland.
Cyber-safety expert, Nancy Willard posted this on LM_Net recently and has given me permission to post it on the Blue Skunk as well. Money in fear. Tell me it isn't so...
EVERY place I went there was evidence of incredible Internet fear mongering!
A lady in Rochester said a FBI agent presented on Internet safety in Buffalo and said social networking sites are so horrible no teen should be using these sites.
At the briefing, the Representative, Rep Bean, who has a pretty good bill pending, said that predators are tracking down teens from the personal information they are posting online and sneaking into their room at night. NO evidence this is occurring! Teens are going to meet with these guys – and need to address this situation. But we have to do so based on the facts. I have been involved in this field for over 12 years and I have never seen one news report of an Internet predator who has tracked down and abducted a teen. I will not say “never will happen” but there is no current evidence
that this is occurring. And the news WOULD report this if it were.
Maryland State Police told the audience folks that 1 in 7 young people are sexually solicited online and (horrors) they are not reporting this to adults! This is based on 2005 data. The study did not even ask about social networking sites. Most of the inappropriate contacts were in chat rooms, which are far more dangerous than social networking sites. 43% of the solicitations came from other teens and 30% came from folks who self-identified as 18 to 25, so you know damned well that this also included lots of teens. Only 9% from folks identified as adults over 25. Of concern! But what were the teens doing in these places in the first place. 16% of the sexual solicitations came from females and it appears that most of them were under 18. So more female teens soliciting sex online than dirty old men. Teens responded to the situations by leaving the site, blocking the person, telling the person to stop, or ignoring the person. Some are telling friends. Most are not telling adults. Why did they not tell adults? Because “it was not serious enough!” They had it under control.
The IKeepSafe who are now partnering with DARE – the “just say no” program that has been proven time and time again to be totally ineffective! - and have their cute little Faux Paws cat telling kids not to talk with or go to meet with online strangers. Well for one, these materials are aimed at elementary students and there is no evidence predators are targeting them. Second, if we have 8 year olds hopping a bus to meet an online stranger at the mall, there are some pretty significant family problems to begin with. But we do have 8 year olds waddling around Club Penguin in their little penguin avatars talking with online strangers. And they are perfectly SAFE! Stranger danger messages ARE NOT EFFECTIVE! We know this. We have to help ALL young people learn to recognize the signs of a dangerous stranger.
I presented on cyberbullying in both locations. Cyberbullying is causing more kids far more harm than sexual predation. Some kids are being emotionally devastated, can’t go to school, some are even committing suicide. But the last thing you are ever going to hear me say is “Social networking is bad. Young people are being cyberbullied on social networking sites and through instant messaging. Keep them off these technologies."
What is the other major reason teens are not telling adults??? Because adults are running about screaming “the sky is falling - social networking is evil” and teens, most of whom are making pretty good choices online, think we are all nuts. But the even bigger problem is that sometimes they really do get into difficult situations and they really do need to share that something bad is happening online. And the fear mongering is getting in the way of this. They pretty much know that adults are being primed to overreact and will. They know adults do not understand and fear this environment - and they are pretty sure the adults will not know what to do or will make matters worse. Or that adults will restrict their access, like the FBI advises. Which for teens is akin to excommunication. So we are leaving them to deal with difficult situations on their own.
And do not get me started on the state AG’s plan to fix all of these problems by requiring sites to do age verification. AGH!!!
Be prepared. I am going to have to become more politically vocal on these issues. The fear mongering is undermining the kinds of relationships we need with kids to help them stay safe and learn to make safe and responsible choices. The biggest thing we have to fear about the Internet right now is the fear mongering itself. (roughly quoting someone ;-))
Oh, part of this is also financial. They all want money - federal $$ - to support their fear mongering programs.
Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D.
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social
Aggression, Threats, and Distress (Research Press)
Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the
Internet Safely and Responsibly (Jossey-Bass)
Thanks, Nancy. Good stuff and keep up the good work. Watch for Nancy new guide to Cyberbulling for parents coming to her website soon. She sent me an advanced copy and it is very good.