The day after the agreement between MySpace and the state attorneys general was announced, a University of New Hampshire publicist sent me comments from David Finkelhor, director of UNH's Crimes Against Children Research Center. The Center's work has been key to shaping our society's understanding of online child exploitation since any of us first became aware of the problem (for example, see "Profile of a teen online victim" and "New approach to online-safety education suggested"). So it's good to get Dr. Finkelhor's thinking on this latest development….
He writes that it's an important agreement for a number of reasons:
“A majority of online teens use social-networking sites, and the overwhelming number use MySpace, partly because of its openness. Unlike many other current child safety initiatives, such as sex offender residency restrictions, this one is nuanced and complex in its approach – for example, thinking about the different needs and risks for different aged youth.
“However, some very important caveats exist. The parties have not solved some of the most important problems, such as how to verify the ages of participants. The technology and social networking environment are changing so fast, much of this initiative could be obsolete in a year or two.
“The attorneys general should be congratulated for showing what can be done. But ultimately, this is not the best arrangement for ‘watchdogging’ the safety of kids online. We need more agencies with a national scope, both in the federal government, equivalent to the Federal Trade Commission, and in the private sector, equivalent to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, with the resources and leverage to be doing this study and negotiation on an ongoing basis.”
Here is my item on the MySpace/AGs announcement, and here are some recent findings from the Center for Crimes Against Children Research Center:
* "One in 25 Online Youth Asked to Send Sexual Pictures of Themselves" (note that, "according to the study, very few of those surveyed actually complied with the requests, but given the millions of youth online, thousands of children may potentially be sending such pictures" – see also "Teen-distributed child porn" in NetFamilyNews)
* "Survey Identifies Teen Online Behaviors Associated with Online Interpersonal Victimization" (note this landmark finding: "Most Internet safety advocates suggest discouraging youth from sharing personal information and talking with unknown people online,” according to the UNH researchers. However, the study found that talking with people only known online under certain conditions is associated with online interpersonal victimization, but sharing information is not." Here's what leads to victimization: “Aggressive behavior in the form of making rude or nasty comments or frequently embarrassing others, meeting people in multiple ways and talking about sex online with unknown people were significantly related to online interpersonal victimization."