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Hi again. 

Sorry second long message for the day - and same theme. I suppose you all
heard the news of the 29,000 predators on MySpace. The Internet
fear-mongerers have and will jump on this statistic. I wrote an op ed about
this that I submitted to the NY Times. But I thought I would let you all see
this also. Here it is:

Lions, Tigers, and Predators on MySpace, Oh My!

The popular social networking site, MySpace, has recently identified and
removed the profiles of 29,000 registered sex offenders from its site.

In response to this responsible action, Connecticut Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal, stated, "The exploding epidemic of sex offender profiles on
MySpace--29,000 and counting--screams for action."  His statement went
further called for age verification and parental permission systems to
protect young people from this ³clear and present danger.²

Age verification systems and parental permission will not effectively
address the concern of online sexual predators. And the fear-mongering by
Mr. Blumenthal and others is only making matters worse.

As a result of such fear-mongering, many adults are primed to overreact to
any report regarding problems online. Teens know this and, as a result, they
are less inclined to discuss Internet concerns with adults.

There are predators in the real world. There are predators online. Parents
must protect younger children and prepare teens to make safe choices and
effectively respond to dangerous situations ­ in the real world and online.

An age verification approach would only work if we instituted
government-issued identification for all minors. Not only would such a
system be exceptionally expensive, this approach would also lead to massive
concerns of identity theft.

Parents who are appropriately involved in the lives of their children talk
with them about their online activities, know what they are doing, and pay
attention to what they are posting and who their online friends are. These
parents make sure the computer is in a public area of the house, so they can
look over their childrenıs shoulder from time to time.

Most importantly, involved parents discuss concerns about risky sexual
activity online. They do not allow participation on social networking sites
until their children are old enough to discuss these concerns. Involved
parents provide guidance on how to avoid posting material or engaging in
activities that might attract the attention of someone with inappropriate
intentions. They warn their children about people (strangers or not) who
send overly-friendly messages, tell them how ³hot² they are, offer gifts or
opportunities, or try to become a ³special friend.² They discuss appropriate
responses to any concerning situations that might arise. And they promise
not to overreact if their child reports a concern.

No age verification or parent permission system on a social networking site
can ever take the place of an appropriately involved parent. Nor will such
systems encourage such a level of parental involvement. ³Quick fix²
solutions only lead to false security.

Teens whose parents do not understand these issues or who are not
appropriately involved in their lives are clearly at greater risk online. We
must help these teens and their parents gain a greater understanding of the
risks and important protection strategies. Schools, libraries, religious
institutions, community groups, and others can all do a better job of
providing such education.

The educational approach itself is important. Internet safety messages that
impart fear and simplistic solutions are also not the answer. Young people
will be posting personal information online. They need to know how to
protect their personal contact information and not to post material that
creates the perception of vulnerability, an interest in sex, or could damage
their reputation and future opportunities. Young people will be
communicating with online strangers. They must know how to assess the safety
of those they meet online.

Lastly, we need to encourage teens to make sure their friends are making
safe choices online ­ and to tell an adult if they know that someone is at
significant risk. Friends donıt let friends hook up with online losers.


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)

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