If you don't tell your children that you love them, they'll find someone online who will. - Moorhead police officer, Mike Detloff
Online predators are in the news again with 90,000 profiles of sex offenders being removed from MySpace. And because of the stories, the calls for blocking social networking sites in schools are being voiced again.
Thankfully Anne Collier at NetFamilyNews.org puts the issue into some sort of rational perspective in Sex offenders in social sites: Consider the facts:
- Not all children are equally at risk of Net-related sexual exploitation (see "Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies" from the US's Internet Safety Technical Task Force, with a summary of all child-online-safety research to date).
- A child's psychosocial makeup and family environment are better predictors of risk than the technology he or she uses (also from the ISTTF report).
- The kids most at risk offline are those at risk online (see "Profile of a teen online victim" and the ISTTF report).
- Sexual exploitation as a result of Internet activity (much less social networking) is statistically rare - "too low to calculate in the two national samples we conducted," the Crimes Against Children Research Center has told me.
- The vast majority of teens - 91% - use social sites to keep in touch with friends they see frequently (mostly at school), not strangers ('07 Pew/Internet study).
- The offenders in the vast majority of child sexual abuse cases are not strangers to their victims (multiple sources).
- Despite the establishment of one or more public profiles of "teens" (fake profiles) on MySpace by the Pennsylvania attorney general's Child Predator Unit, "there has apparently not been one successful sting operation initiated on MySpace in the more than two years during which these sting profiles have been in existence" (see "Pennsylvania case study: Social networking risk in context").
Banning rather than teaching online safety strategies is the wrong approach. Period. Blocking access from schools pushes kids to using these sites in places that may have no adult monitoring at all. And while we do need to make sure all students are safe Internet users, are we going the extra mile with those kids who are most at risk? Those whose parents don't tell them that they love them?
Read and share Anne's full post. Get people asking smarter questions about the real Internet safety issues.