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Internet safer for kids than we’ve been led to believe

A year ago, 49 state attorneys general — by the way, shouldn’t the abbreviation of that be AsG, not AGs? — who were worried about child safety on social networking sites, commissioned a study of the problem. The Internet Safety Technology Task Force was established and chartered with gathering data about child predation and children’s access to inappropriate material. John Palfrey (a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center), was made the chair, and Dena Sacco (a former assistant US attorney) and danah boyd (an Internet sociologist) — both also Fellows at the Center — were co-directors. Now the task force has issued its 280 page report.

After looking at every piece of research they could find (compiling an 85-page list of sources), the study has come to nuanced conclusions that I’m about to un-nuance. First, the fears that motivated the report are overblown. There is child predation on the Net, and everyone ought to be concerned about that. But there isn’t as much as we thought, and our kids usually handle the occasional creepy solicitation better than we thought. Second, although there is obviously easy access to all sorts of disturbing material on the Net, it’s not as as in the faces of our kids as we thought. Third, child-to-child bullying is a bigger problem than the sponsors of the report initially thought. Finally, there’s a long list of things we need to do to address these problems — because, to repeat, the fact that there’s less raping of children going on than sensationalists have suggested doesn’t mean that it’s not still an issue — but there are no single technological fixes. In particular, the expected fixes of age and ID verification are not a universal panacea and, because of their risks and downsides, should not be mandated for all social networking sites.

This is an important report because it is relentlessly based on data-driven research. The task force believes it has considered every piece of peer-reviewed research published and more. Its conclusions come in response to all the known data.

I interviewed John Palfrey and Dena Sacco about the report on Monday, for a Radio Berkman that will be posted today at Media Berkman.[Later that morning: Here it is.] If I say that I think it came out well, you’ll understand that that’s because of John and Dena’s eloquence.

5 Responses to “Internet safer for kids than we’ve been led to believe”

  1. I’m sorry the headlines on this article allow people to draw the wrong conclusions, like “Threats exaggerated,” or “Internet safer for kids.” It’s a mistake to base decisions on comparisons stating that cyberbullying isn’t much worse than other bullying. Or that it’s important to state that there’s no easy solution. What a waste of time and money.

    Cyberbullies and predators on social networking sites will be with us forever. Of course we’ll find some software to help, but you can never guarantee safety in the real world. Wanting absolute safety is the wrong approach.

    And of course there’s no easy solution. No one is really dumb enough to think there’s an easy solution. No amount of software will make the internet any safer than giving your money to Bernard Madoff or crossing the street.

    Don’t pay attention to the pseudo-science of the report. We must pay attention to our individual kids and teach them that “friends” on social sites aren’t really friends, they’re merely virtual acquaintances. Dealing with virtual people is much more difficult than dealing with people face-to-face. And we all know how difficult that can be.

    There are no safe environments. That was the message I always got from reading the great hero stories when I was growing up. And each tale challenged me to prepare myself for similar dangers.

    Schools and the real world have never been safe. I remember a biography of Harpo Marx (remember the Marx Brothers). He went to school for one day. The kids threw him out the window (first floor). He came back in. They threw him out again. After the third time he didn’t go back in. And never did again.

    Schools and social networks are testing grounds for the real world. And the real world is not and should not be safe. Facing risks and danger helps us develop good sense, good character and the qualities necessary to survive. Imagine growing up on a farm, in an wilderness village or in the middle ages. Not safe. I grew up in New York City. Not safe. Millennia ago we had to learn what a saber-toothed tiger’s foot prints looked like and how long ago they were left. The world still requires survival skills, even if different ones.

    Parents have the responsibility to monitor and guide children and teenagers. Of course kids will object. How many of us thought our parents were right when they tried to limit what we wanted to do? We must be wise enough as parents to know best and strong enough to stand up to the kids’ anger.

    Bullies are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same. That’s why we can find ways to stop most of them. Sometimes, fighting is the key to success. If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.

    When children learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, they’ll develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. They’ll need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they’ll face as adults.

    Disclosure: In addition to having six children, I’m a practical, pragmatic coach and consultant. Check out my website and blog ( I’ve written the books, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” and recorded a 10-CD set of these books.

    Best wishes,

  2. […] I came across this post by David Weinberger, of Everything is Miscellaneous fame, about the Enhancing Child Safety and […]

  3. […] niños a pensar que este tipo de comportamiento es apropiado). David Weinberger, Joho the Blog. [Liga] [etiquetas: libros, Bullying, investigación, […]

  4. […] here, as are many supporting documents. Reactions from some of my daily blogs are available (David Weinberger, MichaelFroomkin so far, more as I see them), as is newspaper coverage (Guardian, New York Times). […]

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