Why technopanics are bad

Remember the predator panic? It's not over, of course – presentations with titles like "Facebook, the Sex Offenders' Catalog" and "MySpace the Predator's New Playground" (actual titles) are still being given at a time when we need to empower young social media users and their parents, not scare them to death (for more on this, see "A new online safety: The means, not the end").

Now we really need to prevent a sexting panic from developing. I really believe teens themselves will help us end the trend if they're given the facts about current child-porn laws (see "Tips to Prevent Sexting"), which hopefully will undergo revisions, where minors and adolescent behavior are concerned and criminal intent is not (see what's happening in Vermont along these lines).

"But why are technopanics bad, if there's a chance they'll scare people into safe behavior?" you might ask. For one thing because the Internet is ubiquitous, here to stay, a tool of participatory culture and democracy, and youth are its most active, fluent users – its drivers, in many ways. Young people aren't scared of technology. They know all the workarounds if we get scared and try to ban the Net from their lives. They can easily go "underground" (away from home, at friends' houses, public hot spots, using friends' very mobile connected devices, from smartphones to music and game players), which can actually put them at greater risk, because when they're in stealth mode, we're no longer in the equation, and they need us as backup in their online as well as offline lives.

And there are macro-level, national and global, reasons why panics are bad. Here's a list, a draft for which your comments and additions are welcome. Technopanics are bad because they…

* Cause fear, which interferes with parent-child communication, which in turn puts kids at greater risk.
* Cause schools to fear and block digital media when they need to be teaching constructive use, employing social-technology devices and teaching new media literacy and citizenship throughout the curriculum.
* Turn schools into barriers rather than contributors to young people's constructive use. * Increase the irrelevancy of school to active young social-technology users via the sequestering or banning of educational technology and hamstringing some of the most spirited and innovative educators.
* Distract parents, educators, policymakers from real risks – including, for example, child-pornography laws that do not cover situations where minors can simultaneously be victim and "perpetrator" and, tragically, become registered sex offenders in cases where there was no criminal intent (e.g., see this).
* Reduce the competitiveness of US education among developed countries already effectively employing educational technology and social media in schools (for an international view, see Joan Ganz Cooney Center/Sesame Workshop's "Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children's Learning").
* Reduce the competitiveness of US technology and media businesses practicing good corporate citizenship where youth online safety is concerned.
* Lead to bad legislation, which aggravates above outcomes and takes the focus off areas where good laws on the books can be made relevant to current technology use.
* Widen the participation gap for youth – technopanics are barriers for children and teens to full, constructive participation in participatory culture and democracy.

What am I missing? Please add to or comment the list – via the ConnectSafely forum, commenting here, or email to anne(at)netfamilynews.org. We are literally all in this together, don't you think?!

Related links

* Prof. Henry Jenkins: "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century," Fall 2006
* "Living and Learning with New Media," a summary of findings (qualitative and quantitative) form the MacArthur Foundation-funded Digital Youth Project, by Ito, Mizuko, Heather A. Horst, Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, Becky Herr-Stephenson, Patricia G. Lange, C.J. Pascoe, and Laura Robinson, Fall 2008.
* "Critical Information Studies for a Participatory Culture," Dr. Jenkins's list of factors that block the full achievement of a more participatory society, 4/10/09 post on his blog
* The skills of new media literacy
* For a bit of history, see my first item on this, "'Predator panic'," in 2006 and "The latest technopanic" last August (before "sexting" was a word), linking to Alice Marwick's definitive paper on moral panics.
* "Enhancing Child Safety & Online Technologies," the 12/31/08 report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and my post about it
* "Pennsylvania case study: Social networking risk in context"

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