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Week of 2.20.09

Are Internet Predator Worries Overblown?
Report: Online Bullying a Bigger Problem

Is the Internet really a haven for sexual predators? One would think so, based on widespread fears about social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and TV shows like "To Catch a Predator" and "Law & Order: SVU.". But the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, made up of 49 state attorneys general, says: think again.

The panel's 278-page report, released last month, concludes that sexual solicitation to children on the Internet is not as significant of a problem as previously thought. The task force, led by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, met with academics, child safety experts, and the executives of 30 Internet companies over the past year, and examined statistical data on online sexual predators.

The study warned that online and offline peer-to-peer bullying and harassment are a more significant problem than adults sexually soliciting minors.

"This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet."
- John Cardillo, Internet Safety Technical Task Force
Other findings of the report include that while the Internet itself increases the availability of harmful content and pornographic material, social networking sites "do not appear to have increased the overall risk for solicitation" or exposure to sexual predators because the risk is not equal for all children. The study found that minors who fell prey to sexual predators on the Internet often came from poor home environments, were involved in other risky behaviors such as substance abuse, and tended to be willing to engage in online sexual encounters.

"This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet. Social networks are very much like real world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons," John Cardillo, a member of the task force and an executive at Sentinel Tech Holding, told The New York Times.

"Children are solicited every day online. Some fall prey, and the results are tragic."
- Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut attorney general
Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, who accused social networking sites of creating havens for sexual predators, disagreed with the report's conclusions and urged Internet companies to come up with tougher safety measures.

"Children are solicited every day online," Mr. Blumenthal told The New York Times. "Some fall prey, and the results are tragic. That harsh reality defies the statistical academic research underlying the report."

 
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