For years, Americans have been hearing how dangerous the internet is: full of perverts, predators, and other horrible creatures who want to eat our young. We’ve been told that chatrooms are full of adults pretending to be teens, and that sites like MySpace and Facebook are full of adults trying to lure our kids onto Greyhound buses and into unspeakable hells.
Americans love these salacious stories, repeating them even while recoiling from them. We follow the gothic kidnap tales on CNN or Fox, the seduction bodice-rippers (jeans-rippers? thong-rippers?) climaxing in some depraved horror. We then beatify the victim (if they’re white and cute); naming a law after him or her completes their secular sainthood. Jessica. Amber. Megan. Adam Walsh.
Now at last there’s a large-scale, professional, technically sophisticated report with terrific news: there really is no significant problem with sexual solicitation of minors online. Indeed, non-sexual bullying by peers is far and away a more serious and common problem.
And who dares to reassure us in this way? The Internet Safety Technical Task Force, created by 49 state attorneys general. If there’s any group eager to find evidence of trouble, this would be it–which makes their report remarkably trustworthy. The inclusion of tech-savvy people like Yahoo, Comcast, and Google, along with groups like Second Life, Facebook, and Wiredsafety.org gives the report additional authority.
The report also notes that while “unwanted exposure to pornography does occur, those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out.” And not surprisingly, kids’ family dynamics and psychological makeup “are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.” In other words, life for kids online is similar to that offline—a loving, communicative family, high self-worth, and good personal skills and values are central to safety. The internet itself isn’t the primary problem.
So—let’s all celebrate some good news for a change, exhale, and enjoy the pleasures of parenting undisturbed for five minutes. We can expect dozens of TV shows, from Larry King to Pat Robertson to Tyra Banks, discussing how mistaken we were, how much safer our kids are than we realized, and what other common fears might be overblown.
No, the vampires of the Sexual Disaster Industry are still at it. Morality in Media, for example, still claims MySpace is a hotbed of porn. The prize for Biggest Scare-Tactic Hypocrite, though, is Enough Is Enough . It’s truly perverse that these self-appointed, admittedly untrained “experts” on “indeceny” were invited onto the Task Force itself. But after sitting through Task Force meetings for a year, Enough Is Enough STILL makes their living by peddling terror-smut: persuading parents and legislators that America is about to be destroyed by cyber-predators.
Why won’t groups like these spread the good news about online safety? Because there’s way too much money and influence in terrorizing parents about online danger.
Sometime in the future, America will have to ask itself why it was so willing to believe the internet was the tangible, living repository of our worst nightmares about ourselves.
Until then, I challenge every predator-chic organization to spread the good news about the Attorneys General/Harvard report. Clearly, any group which doesn’t do so is interested in only one kind of safety: the safety of their own budget.