Science & Technology

MySpace = Safe Space

Predator panic debunked


Early in 2008, the big names of the online technology world, plus 50 attorneys general, joined forces with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School to form the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. The goal: to figure out what to do about the predators who seemed to be lurking in every virtual corner, threatening children and generally ruining the social networking, online chatting, and other fun stuff on the Internet for the rest of us.

Thus empaneled, the experts promised to dig in and report back in a year with a comprehensive study. From their report, published December 31: "The image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture of the nature of the majority of sexual solicitations and Internetinitiated offline encounters; this inaccuracy leads to major risks in this area being ignored." The report concludes that sites like MySpace and Facebook "do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation," and it notes that "posting personally identifying information does not appear to increase risk in and of itself." Moreover, the task force found that technological fixes such as age verification and scans for known sexual predators aren't effective at catching the relatively small number of predators online. 

As for porn, "the Internet increases the availability of harmful, problematic and illegal content, but does not always increase minors' exposure," says the report. Most kids "exposed" to porn online were "those seeking it out, such as older male minors."