Reading the Ofcon Report on Social Networking: Stats, Stranger Danger, Perceived Risk [en]

[fr] Le Daily Mail remet ça aujourd'hui, abasourdi de découvrir que les adolescents rencontrent "offline" des étrangers d'internet. Il va donc falloir que j'écrive le fameux billet auquel j'ai fait allusion dernièrement, mais avant cela, je suis en train de lire le rapport sur lequel se basent ces articles alarmés et bien-pensants.

Ce billet contient quelques commentaires sur la situation en général, ainsi que mes notes de lecture -- citations et commentaires -- du début de ce rapport de l'Ofcon.

I don’t know if I’ll get around to writing about the [teen cleavage scare](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/04/02/daily-mail-shocked-by-teen-cleavage/) before the story goes completely cold, but in my endeavour to offer a balanced criticism of what’s going on here, I’m currently reading the [Ofcon Social Networking Report which was released on April 2](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/02_04_08_ofcom.pdf) and prompted this new wave of [“think of the children” media coverage](http://strange.corante.com/archives/2007/07/26/think_of_the_children_yes_but_also_think_about_the_journalism.php). The Daily Mail is at it today again, with the stunning and alarming news that [teenagers are meeting “strangers” from the internet offline](http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=557349&in_page_id=1770) (big surprise). I find it heartening, though, that the five reader comments to this article as of writing are completely sensible in playing down the “dangers” regularly touted by the press and the authorities.

Here are the running notes of my reading of this report. I might as well publish them as I’m reading. Clearly, the report seems way more balanced than the Daily Mail coverage (are we surprised?) which contains lots of figures taken out of context. However, there is still stuff that bothers me — less the actual results of the research (which are facts, so they’re good) than the way some of them are presented and the interpretations a superficial look at them might lead one to make (like, sorry to say, much of the mainstream press).

Here we go.

> Social networking sites also have
some potential pitfalls to negotiate, such as the unintended consequences of publicly posting
sensitive personal information, confusion over privacy settings, and contact with people one
doesn’t know.

Ofcon SN Report, page 1

Good start, I think that the issues raise here make sense. However, I would put “contact with people one doesn’t know” in “potential pitfalls”. (More about this lower down.)

> Ofcom research shows that just over one fifth (22%) of adult internet users aged 16+ and
almost half (49%) of children aged 8-17 who use the internet have set up their own profile on
a social networking site. For adults, the likelihood of setting up a profile is highest among
16-24 year olds (54%) and decreases with age.

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

This is to show that SNs are more popular amongst younger age groups. It makes sense to say that half of 8-17 year olds have a profile on SN site to compare it with the 22% of 16+ internet users or the 54% of 16-24 year olds. Bear in mind that these are *percentages of internet users* — they do not include those who do not go online.

However, saying “OMG one out of two 8-17 year olds has a profile on a SN site” in the context of “being at risk from paedophiles” is really not very interesting. Behaviour of 8 year olds and 17 year olds online cannot be compared at all in that respect. You can imagine a 16 year old voluntarily meeting up to have sex with an older love interest met on the internet. Not an 8 year old. In most statistics, however, both fall into the category of “paedophilia” when the law gets involved.

> 27% of 8-11 year olds who are aware of social networking sites say that they have a profile on a site

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

I’d like to draw you attention on the fact that this is 27% of 8-11 year olds **who are aware of social networking sites**.

> Unless otherwise stated, this report uses the term ‘children’ to include all young people aged 8-17.

Ofcon SN Report, page 5

I don’t like this at all, because as stated above, particularly when it comes to concerns about safety one *cannot* simply lump that agegroup into a practical “children”, which plays well with “child abuse”. In the US, cases of “statutory rape” which might very well have been consensual end up inflating the statistics on “children falling victim to sexual predators online”.

> Although contact lists on sites talk about ’friends’, social networking sites stretch the
traditional meaning of ‘friends’ to mean anyone with whom a user has an online connection.
Therefore the term can include people who the user has never actually met or spoken to.
Unlike offline (or ‘real world’) friendship, online friendships and connections are also
displayed in a public and visible way via friend lists.
> The public display of friend lists means that users often share their personal details online
with people they may not know at all well. These details include religion, political views,
sexuality and date of birth that in the offline world a person might only share only with close
friends.
> While communication with known contacts was the most popular social
networking activity, 17 % of adults used their profile to communicate with
people they do not know. This increases among younger adults.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

Right. This is problematic too. And it’s not just the report’s fault. The use of “friend” to signify contact contributes to making the whole issue of “online friendship” totally inpenetrable to those who are not immersed in online culture. The use of “know” is also very problematic, as it tends to be understood that you can only “know” somebody offline. Let’s try to clarify.

First, it’s possible to build relationships and friendships (even loves!) online. Just like in pre-internet days you could develop a friendship with a pen-pal, or kindle a nascent romance through letters, you can get to know somebody through text messages, IM, blog postings, presence streams, Skype chats and calls, or even mailing-list and newsgroup postings. I hope that it will soon be obvious to everybody that it is possible to “know” somebody without actually having met them offline.

So, there is a difference between “friends” that “you know” and “SN friends aka contacts” which you might in truth not really know. But you can see how the vocabulary can be misleading here.

I’d like to take the occasion to point out one other thing that bothers me here: the idea that contact with “strangers” or “people one does not know” is a thing worth pointing out. So, OK, 17% of adults in the survey, communicated with people they “didn’t know”. I imagine that this is “didn’t know” in the “offline person”‘s worldview, meaning somebody that had never been met physically (maybe the study gives more details about that). But even if it is “didn’t know” as in “complete stranger” — still, why does it have to be pointed out? Do we have statistics on how many “strangers” we communicate with offline each week?

It seems to me that *because this is on the internet*, strangers are perceived as a potential threat, in comparison to people we already know. As far as abuse goes, in the huge, overwhelming, undisputed majority of cases, the abuser was known (and even well known) to the victim. Most child sexual abuse is commited by people in the family or very close social circle.

I had hoped that in support of what I’m writing just now, I would be able to state that “stranger danger” was behind us. Sadly, a quick [search on Google](http://www.google.com/search?q=%22stranger+danger%22) shows that I’m wrong — it’s still very much present. I did, however, find [this column which offers a very critical view of how much danger strangers actually do represent for kids](http://www.parentkidsright.com/pt-strangerdanger2.html) and the harmful effects of “stranger danger”. Another nice find was this [Families for Freedom Child Safety Bulletin](http://www.ipce.info/ipceweb/Library/families_for_freedom.htm), by a group who seems to share the same concerns I do over the general scaremongering around children.

> Among those who reported talking to people they didn’t know, there were significant
variations in age, but those who talked to people they didn’t know were significantly more
likely to be aged 16-24 (22% of those with a social networking page or profile) than 25-34
(7% of those with a profile). In our qualitative sample, several people reported using sites in
this way to look for romantic interests.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

Meeting “online people” offline is more common amongst the younger age group, which is honestly not a surprise. At 34, I sometimes feel kind of like a dinosaur when it comes to internet use, in the sense that many of my offline friends (younger than me) would never dream of meeting somebody from “The Internets”. 16-24s are clearly digital natives, and as such, I would expect them to be living in a world where “online” and “offline” are distinctions which do not mean much anymore (as they do not mean much to me and many of the other “online people” of my generation or older).

> The majority of comments in our qualitative sample were positive about social networking. A
few users did mention negative aspects to social networking, and these included annoyance
at others using sites for self-promotion, parties organised online getting out of hand, and
online bullying.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7

This is interesting! Real life experience from real people with social networks. Spam, party-crashing and bullying (I’ll have much more to say about this last point later on, but in summary, address the bullying problem at the source and offline, and don’t blame the tool) are mentioned as problems. Unwanted sexual sollicitations or roaming sexual predators do not seem to be part of the online experience of the people interviewed in this study. Strangely, this fits with my experience of the internet, and that of almost everybody I know. (Just like major annoyances in life for most people, thankfully, are not sexual harrassment — though it might be for some, and that really sucks.)

> The people who use social networking sites see them as a fun and easy leisure activity.
Although the subject of much discussion in the media, in Ofcom’s qualitative research
privacy and safety issues on social networking sites did not emerge as ‘top of mind’ for most
users. In discussion, and after prompting, some users in the qualitative study did think of
some privacy and safety issues, although on the whole they were unconcerned about them.
> In addition, our qualitative study found that all users, even those who were confident with
ICT found the settings on most of the major social networking sites difficult to understand
and manipulate.

Ofcon SN Report, page 7-8

This is really interesting too. But how do you understand it? I read: “It’s not that dangerous, actually, if those people use SN sites regularly without being too concerned, and the media are making a lot of fuss for nothing.” (Ask people about what comes to mind about driving a car — one of our regular dangerous activities — and I bet you more people than in that study will come up with safety issues; chances are we’ve all been involved in a car crash at some point, or know somebody who has.) Another way of reading it could be “OMG, even with all the effort the media are putting into raising awareness about these problems, people are still as naive and ignorant! They are in danger!”. What will the media choose to understand?

The study points out the fact that privacy settings are hard to understand and manipulate, and I find this very true. In doubt or ignorance, most people will “not touch” the defaults, which are generally too open. I say “too open” with respect to privacy in the wide sense, not in the “keep us safe from creeps” sense.

This brings me to a comment I left earlier on [an article on ComMetrics about what makes campaigns against online pedophiles fail](http://commetrics.com/?p=29). It’s an interesting article, but as I explain in the comment, I think it misses an important point:

>There is a bigger issue here — which I try to explain each time I get a chance, to the point I’m starting to feel hoarse.

>Maybe the message is not the right one? The campaign, as well as your article, takes as a starting point that “adults posing as kids” are the threat that chatrooms pose to our children.

>Research shows that this is not a widespread risk. It also shows that there is no correlation between handing out personal information online and the risk of falling victim to a sexual predator. Yet our campaigns continue to be built on the false assumptions that not handing out personal information will keep a kid “safe”, and that there is danger in the shape of people lying about their identity, in the first place.

>There is a disconnect between the language the campaigns speak and what they advocate (you point that out well in your article, I think), and the experience kids and teenagers have of life online (“they talk to strangers all the time, and nothing bad happens; they meet people from online, and they are exactly who they said they were; hence, all this “safety” information is BS”). But there is also a larger disconnect, which is that the danger these campaigns claim to address is not well understood. Check out the 5th quote in the long article I wrote on the subject at the time of the MySpace PR stunt about deleting “sex offenders'” profiles.

>I will blog more about this, but wanted to point this out here first.

Yes, I will blog more about this. I think this post of notes and thoughts is long enough, and it’s time for me to think about sleeping or putting a new bandage on my scraped knee. Before I see you in a few days for the next bout of Ofcon Report reading and commentating, however, I’ll leave you with the quote I reference in the comment above (it can’t hurt to publish it again):

Now, on the case of internet sex crimes against kids, I’m concerned
that we’re already off to a bad start here. The public and the
professional impression about what’s going on in these kinds of
crimes is not in sync with the reality, at least so far as we can
ascertain it on the basis of research that we’ve done. And this
research has really been based on some large national studies of
cases coming to the attention of law enforcement as well as to large
national surveys of youth.

If you think about what the public impression is about this crime,
it’s really that we have these internet pedophiles who’ve moved
from the playground into your living room through the internet
connection, who are targeting young children by pretending to be
other children who are lying about their ages and their identities and
their motives, who are tricking kids into disclosing personal
information about themselves or harvesting that information from
blogs or websites or social networking sites. Then armed with this
information, these criminals stalk children. They abduct them.
They rape them, or even worse.

But actually, the research in the cases that we’ve gleaned from
actual law enforcement files, for example, suggests a different
reality for these crimes. So first fact is that the predominant online
sex crime victims are not young children. They are teenagers.
There’s almost no victims in the sample that we collected from – a
representative sample of law enforcement cases that involved the
child under the age of 13.

In the predominant sex crime scenario, doesn’t involve violence,
stranger molesters posing online as other children in order to set up
an abduction or assault. Only five percent of these cases actually
involved violence. Only three percent involved an abduction. It’s
also interesting that deception does not seem to be a major factor.
Only five percent of the offenders concealed the fact that they were
adults from their victims. Eighty percent were quite explicit about
their sexual intentions with the youth that they were communicating
with.

So these are not mostly violence sex crimes, but they are criminal
seductions that take advantage of teenage, common teenage
vulnerabilities. The offenders lure teens after weeks of
conversations with them, they play on teens’ desires for romance,
adventure, sexual information, understanding, and they lure them to
encounters that the teams know are sexual in nature with people who
are considerably older than themselves.

So for example, Jenna – this is a pretty typical case – 13-year-old
girl from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chat rooms, had
the screen name “Evil Girl.” There she met a guy who, after a
number of conversations, admitted he was 45. He flattered her, gave
– sent her gifts, jewelry. They talked about intimate things. And
eventually, he drove across several states to meet her for sex on
several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested in her
company, she was reluctant to cooperate with the law enforcement
authorities.

David Finkelhor, in panel Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths, May 2007

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Daily Mail Shocked by Teen Cleavage [en]

[fr] Encore une panique au sujet des photos d'ados sur les réseaux sociaux. Gardez la tête froide. Vais bloguer si j'ai le temps ces prochains jours.

[Kevin Marks](http://epeus.blogspot.com) [tweets](http://twitter.com/kevinmarks/statuses/781473328):

> Daily Mail is shocked, shocked to find teenage cleavage on Bebo; reprints it in the paper, beside *their* bikini stories

The article in question, available online, is [Millions of girls using Facebook, Bebo and Myspace ‘at risk’ from paedophiles and bullies](http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=553348&in_page_id=1770&ct=5).

No time to read it in full now, or blog about it as I should, but a couple of reminders:

– Keep your head cool and [check out the facts](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/05/11/just_the_facts.html)
– Don’t fall for the [online predator paranoia](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/myspace-banning-sex-offenders-online-predator-paranoia/)
– Here’s a link to the [source report](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/02_04_08_ofcom.pdf) — do your homework before reblogging the Daily Mail
– Link to [other news sources on the topic](http://news.google.co.uk/?ncl=1147768326&hl=en&topic=t) to explore
– [Some advice to parents](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/parents-teenagers-internet-predators-fear/)

And if you were wondering, yes, I [give talks on the subject](http://stephanie-booth.com/en/speaking/) in schools (in French or English). List of [past talks](http://stephanie-booth.com/en/speaking/past/). [More information on that in French](http://stephanie-booth.com/fr/ecoles/).

I was interviewed a bit less than a year ago by the BBC around fear parents were feeling about Facebook:

If I have time, I’ll try to blog about this tomorrow, but the stack of *things to do right now* is quite high, and I’m not sure I’ll get around to doing it before this is cold.

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A Day at the Frankfurter Buchmesse [en]

[fr] Etat des lieux sur mes recherches de fonds et exploration du monde de l'édition pour mon livre sur les ados et internet. Envies de publier (via internet) des livres avec mes photos, aussi.

A month or two ago, I was chatting about [my book project](/categories/livre/) and [decision to find funding](http://www.viddler.com/about/contact/) to [Joi](http://joi.ito.com/). He suggested that a trip to the [Frankfurt book fair](http://www.book-fair.com/en/portal.php) might be useful.

First on, the Messe is just *huge*. I spent a morning there and just walked, and walked, and walked. Overall, I found my visit rather disappointing, though I did learn some useful things (though they weren’t exactly what I wanted to hear). Here’s the information I gathered, from a visit to the Swiss booth and discussions with a few people.

– I have a list of Swiss (French-speaking) publishers, and a shortlist of 4-5 who could be suitable for my project.
– Publishers, distributors, and bookstores are all part of the same organisation (in CH).
– The market is saturated, publishers are swamped with manuscripts, and it’s even worse in France than Switzerland (so, I should stick with local publishers — the fact I’m already recognised as a local authority also pushes in that direction).
– I can forget about a deal with an advance, so I need to look at other sources to finance the *writing* part (Loterie Romande, educational associations, foundations… I’ll hunt around a bit to compile a list.)
– Swiss publishers don’t like agents, and having one might make it even more difficult for me to find a publisher.
– The publisher deals with the printing guys to get the book published, and deals with the distribution guys to get it distributed. [Hunter](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_Lovins), a seasoned bookwriter, tells me that unless I’m getting a huge advance, having a publisher is not worth it — I can deal with printers and distributors myself. Will just have to check if this is a viable approach in the Swiss market.
– The publisher is precious for the editing process, because he knows what is good and what is not, the head of this Swiss association tells me. Hunter, on the contrary, tells me this mostly gets in the way. A good editor can be precious but chances are I won’t be getting one.
– If I go the self-publishing way (offline), then I’ll need funding for the printing, which could be a problem.
– One option, which Joi suggests and I’d been getting at, is to start off by online-self-publishing (Lulu, Blurb, or another), and once there is enough buzz, sales, reviews, etc, approaching publishers.
– I really need to work on a proper proposal, and I have a better understanding of what such a proposal needs to look like. I got some advice from talking with a publisher over dinner (thanks again!) and Chris Webb left me a pointer to [his interesting series on book proposals](http://ckwebb.com/tag/book-proposal) in the comments to [my previous post](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/09/first-draft-of-book-presentation/). From what I gather, the more there is in the proposal, the better.

So, where do I go from now?

– **Write a proper proposal in French** (as the book will be in French). This obviously needs to be broken down into manageable pieces (GTD-style), and I realise that the big nasty bit for me is the outline. I have tons of ideas of stuff that I want to put in the book, but I’m not sure how to organise it all yet. I’ve been mind-mapping, but it’s a bit overwhelming and messy. So I’ll start by writing all the rest (the easy bits).
– **Write a project funding proposal** which will probably not be as detailed as the one for the publisher.
– Ask around for leads to getting funding, compile a list, send out funding requests with proposal.
– Send the proposal to the 4-5 publishers on the list, once it’s done.

Language? Isn’t it kind of weird I’m speaking about this in English? On the other hand, I don’t want to “cut out” my English network by blogging exclusively in French about this book project.

All this thinking about self-publishing has given me the desire to put together one or more photo books. I’ve barely been printing since I went digital, and it’s nice to have photos in physical form too, as [Moo](http://moo.com)’s success demonstrates. My friend [Andrea Lindenberg](http://www.andrealindenberg.com/) has put together a [collection of her best riding show photographs](http://www.lulu.com/content/1192654) — if you like horses, you should definitely check it out. She’s very talented.

My [Flickr photo collection](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/) is approaching 10’000 photos. So, again, the inevitable **choice** problem. I’ll certainly make a book of my best Indian photos at some point (most of them aren’t on Flickr but are either slides (first trip), negatives (second trip), or digital-[dumped-in-directories](http://old.climbtothestars.org/dumps/) (third trip). I have a set called [My Favourites](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/1292259/), but it’s very out-of-date and doesn’t contain any recent photos. I can probably dig out the photos I use for Moo cards or stickers and add them, though.

Any opinions? If you see any photos of mine that you think deserve ending up in the (a) photo book, don’t hesitate to tag them “forthebook”. Thanks!

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First Draft of Book Presentation [en]

[fr] Un premier jet de ce que pourrait être une présentation de mon projet de livre, en anglais.

*// Here’s a first draft of what a short presentation of [my book project](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/08/a-book-on-teenagers-and-the-internet/) would be. Comments and nitpicking welcome. Is this convincing? Does it sound solid?*

#### A Book About Teenagers and the Internet

Teenagers are very active internet users. Parents and educators, however, less so. There is often quite a bit of confusion over what teenagers are doing online and how risky their online occupations are. Attitudes range from complete lack of interest (probably fuelled by fear of technological incompetence) to outright panic (particularly about sexual predators, with complicity of the media).

Adults who are not particularly internet-savvy (and even those who are familiar with it) need a sane guide to precisely what all this “online stuff” is about. What is beneficial? What is harmless? Where are the real dangers? How does being “totally wired” (in Anastasia Goodstein’s terms) influence relationships and social life?

This book will be is a guide to understanding today’s online world, aimed at parents, teachers, and educators. It will helps them make informed educational decisions about teenagers’ use of the internet. The focus will be is on de-dramatizing a lot of the “risks” the mainstream media have been very vocal about (sexual predators, for instance) and on promoting a deep understanding of how online and offline are integrated in teens’ lives. This brings about new issues with are maybe not dramatic, but which can be challenging for our youth, and which they should not have to face without the support of the adults they love or trust in their lives.

Part “tourist guide to the online world”, part essay, this book should be is a precious ally for those living or working with teenagers, and who sometimes feel at loss with what the internet is all about;, as well as contributing it also contributes to a more general understanding of how the internet is changing our lives.

#### About the Author

Stephanie Booth has been a very active and respected online citizen for close to ten years. After graduating in arts (Indian religions and culture, philosophy, French), she worked first as a project manager and then as a middle-school teacher. She left teaching in 2006 to devote herself exclusively to helping others understand internet culture and technology, and make good use of it.

An important part of her work has been giving lectures in French-speaking Switzerland about “the living internet” (blogging, instant messaging…) to teenagers, parents, and schoolteachers. Her extensive personal experience of “internet life” married to a strong academic background and her ability to explain tricky concepts to a variety of audiences in a down-to-earth and convincing fashion have led her to be recognized by both the media and school authorities as an expert on “teenagers and internet” issues.

She has been writing regularly on her blog Climb to the Stars for over seven years, both in English and in French. A lot of her thinking about the internet can be found there.

#### Contents

– Kids online, parents offline: why is it a problem?
– How teenagers use the internet: it’s a town, not a library
– Where can it go wrong?
– Core online publication issues: anonymity, permanence, findability
– How afraid should we be of sexual predators?
– How online communication affects relationships
– What can parents do?
– The bigger picture: media education

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Comment j'en suis arrivée à m'intéresser aux blogs d'adolescents [fr]

[en] The story of how I took an interest in teenage blogging, and from there, teenagers and the internet. It involves a difficult first year of teaching and a naked bottom on one of my students' skyblogs.

*// Entrée en matière possible pour mon [livre](http://climbtothestars.org/categories/livre), dans le genre “premier jet écrit dans le train”. Commentaires et suggestions bienvenus, comme toujours.*

Au début des années 2000, je me souviens qu’on plaisantait entre blogueurs en se rappelant que d’après les quelques enquêtes disponibles sur le sujet, le “blogueur type” était une lycéenne québécoise de 15 ans. On était un peu consternés par la quantité d’adolescents blogueurs et la futilité (voire la bêtise) de leurs publications en ligne. “Complètement inintéressant, le blog est bien plus qu’un journal d’adolescente!” On continuait à bloguer dans notre coin, et les ados dans le leur.

*// Voir si j’arrive à trouver des références à ça.*

J’étais loin d’imaginer que cinq ans plus tard, les blogs d’adolescents m’auraient amené à changer de métier et à écrire un livre. Ce livre, vous l’avez entre les mains.

La genèse de mon intérêt pour la vie adolescente sur internet mérite d’être racontée. Elle permet de situer ma perspective. Mais, plus important, elle et illustre assez bien un des “problèmes” auxquels on peut se heurter si on fait l’économie de comprendre comment les adolescents vivent leurs activités sur internet.

Il y a quelques années de cela, j’ai quitté mon poste de chef de projet dans une grande entreprise suisse pour me tourner vers l’enseignement. Forte de mes respectables années d’expérience personnelle de la vie sur internet, je me suis lancée dans un projet de rédaction de blogs avec mes élèves.

Ce fut un désastre. Si j’étais bien une blogueuse adulte expérimentée, je me suis bien vite rendue compte que les “blogs” que je leur proposais avaient bien peu à voir avec ce dont ils avaient l’habitude dans leurs tribulations sur internet. Certains d’entre eux avaient des skyblogs (des blogs pour adolescents et jeunes, hébergés par le groupe Skyrock).

Munie de l’adresse d’un de ces skyblogs, j’ai commencé mes explorations du monde en ligne de mes élèves. Peut-être qu’en me familiarisant avec ce qu’ils faisaient déjà sur internet, je réussirais à mieux les comprendre, et trouverais ainsi des clés pour remettre sur pied un projet qui battait sérieusement de l’aile. Chaque skyblog arborait fièrement une liste de liens vers ceux des amis (“hors ligne” aussi bien que “en ligne”). Il suffisait de cliquer un peu pour faire le tour.

Sur ces skyblogs, comme je m’y attendais, rien de bien fascinant à mes yeux: beaucoup de photos (de soi-même, des copains et copines, du chien, du vélomoteur), du texte à l’orthographe approximative, voire carrément “SMS”, des appels aux commentaires (“lâchez vos coms!”) et, justement, des commentaires (souvent assez vides de contenu, mais qui jouaient clairement un rôle côté dynamique sociale).

Soudain, catastrophe: je me retrouve face à une paire de fesses, sur le skyblog d’un de mes élèves. Et pas juste des fesses d’affiche publicitaire pour sous-vêtements, non, les fesses d’un de ses camarades de classe, qui les expose visiblement tout à fait volontairement à la caméra.

Que faire? Intervenir, ou non? Ils ont beau être mes élèves, alimenter leurs skyblogs fait partie de leurs activités privées (par opposition à “scolaires”) et je suis tombée sur cette image un peu par hasard (ce n’est pas comme si un élève m’avait donné directement l’adresse pour que j’aille la regarder).

En même temps, puis-je ne pas réagir? Si cette photo était découverte plus tard et qu’elle soulevait un scandale, et qu’on apprenait que j’étais au courant mais que je n’avais rien dit… Je me doute bien qu’il y a derrière cette photo un peu de provocation et pas mal d’inconscience, plus que de malice.

*// Retrouver les dates d’expulsion des lycéens français — est-ce avant ou après ça?*

Jeune enseignante inexpérimentée, je me tourne vers mes supérieurs pour conseil. On discute un peu. On ne va pas en faire un fromage, mais on va demander au propriétaire du skyblog de retirer cette photo inconvenante — ce que je fais. Il accepte sans discuter, un peu surpris peut-être.

*// “Pour conseil” c’est français, ou c’est un anglicisme?*

*// Un autre élément qui est rentré en ligne de compte est que les photos avaient été prises (visiblement) dans les vestiaires de l’école. Pas certain que ce ne soit pas durant des activités extra-scolaires, cependant. Est-ce un détail utile?*

Une semaine plus tard, la photo est toujours en place. Je suis un peu étonnée, et je réitère ma demande auprès de l’élève blogueur. “Oui, mais Jean, il est d’accord que je laisse cette photo sur mon blog, ça le dérange pas, hein.” J’explique que là n’est pas la question, que c’est une demande qui émane de la direction, et que d’accord ou pas, “ça se fait pas” pour les élèves de notre établissement d’exposer leurs fesses au public sur internet.

*// J’ai l’impression que je traîne un peu en longueur, là. On s’ennuie? Les détails sont-ils utiles? Faut-il raccourcir?*

Le lendemain matin, je me retrouve littéralement avec une révolte sur les bras:

– “Pourquoi vous avez demandé à Jules de retirer la photo de son skyblog?”
– “Ça vous regarde pas! L’école n’a pas à s’en mêler!”
– “Vous aviez pas le droit d’en parler au directeur, c’est sa vie privée!”
– “Et qu’est-ce que vous faisiez sur son skyblog, d’abord?”
– “C’est son blog, il peut faire ce qu’il veut dessus! Et la liberté d’expression?”

Je suis sidérée par la violence des réactions. Certes, ma relation avec ces élèves n’est pas exactement idéale (c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire), mais là, ils sont complètement à côté de la plaque. Si l’élève en question avait affiché la photo de ses fesses dans le centre commercial du village, auraient-ils réagi aussi fortement si l’école (représentée par moi-même, en l’occurrence) avait demandé leur retrait?

*// Comment on dit “challenging” en français? (Pour décrire les élèves sans utiliser l’affreux “difficile”.)*

*// Le temps de narration change durant ce récit, vérifier si c’est “utile” ou si c’est “une erreur”.

Visiblement, ils considéraient ce qu’ils publiaient sur internet comme étant “privé” et semblaient ne pas avoir réellement pris conscience du caractère public de leurs skyblogs, ou du droit de quiconque d’y accéder et d’y réagir. Et pourtant, j’avais passé plusieurs heures avec ces mêmes élèves à préparer une charte pour la publication de leurs weblogs scolaires. Nous avions abordé ces points. Ils “savaient” qu’internet était un lieu public et que tout n’y était pas permis. Qu’est-ce qui s’était donc passé?

Cet incident particulier s’est terminé par une intervention énergique du directeur qui a remis quelques points sur quelques “i”. Restaient cependant deux problèmes de taille, que cette histoire avait rendus apparents:

– l’école a-t-elle un “devoir d’ingérence” lors d’événements impliquant les élèves mais sortant de son cadre strict — et si oui, où s’arrête-t-il?
– que pouvons-nous faire pour aider nos enfants et adolescents à devenir des “citoyens d’internet” informés et responsables?

La première question est du ressort des autorités scolaires, directions, enseignants — et je ne prétends pas apporter grand chose à ce débat ici.

La deuxième question, par contre, est l’objet de cet ouvrage.

Similar Posts:

A Book on Teenagers and the Internet [en]

[fr] Malgré l'excellent travail de danah boyd et le livre d'Anastasia Goodstein ("Totally Wired"), je pense que mon projet de livre sur les adolescents et internet tient encore la route. Une petite argumentation à ce sujet.

*// After complaining for weeks that I wasn’t making any progress in writing my [book](http://climbtothestars.org/categories/livre) proposal in preparation for the [Frankfurt Book Fair](http://www.frankfurt-book-fair.com/en/portal.php) I’m leaving for tomorrow, I finally started writing on the journey back home from London. Here’s some stuff in English. Your comments and suggestions are welcome, as always.*

I know of a couple of people in the English-speaking world who are doing great work on teenagers and the internet. One of them is [danah boyd](http://www.danah.org/). She has traveled all over the US and interviewed dozens of teens for her PHD. Another is [Anastasia Goodstein](http://ypulse.com/about.php), who has written the excellent book “[Totally Wired](http://totallywired.ypulse.com/about.php)”, aimed at parents of today’s connected teenagers.

While reading “Totally Wired”, I have to admit I started rethinking my book project. I took the decision to write “The Book” because I noticed a huge void in the French-speaking world. No danah or Anastasia that I know of. Parents and educators need a sane book in French on teenagers and the internet, written by somebody who actually knows and understand the online world. Why not simply translate Anastasia’s book?

I’ve thought about it. For personal reasons, I do want to write a book, and this seems a good and useful subject for one. But is my personal desire to be a published author getting in the way of doing what makes most sense, and putting my energy where it will really be useful? I see two reasons for which this is not the case:

1. Anastasia’s book is US-centric. Although I believe that “internet culture” does not change radically from one part of the world to another, there are differences between the US and French-speaking Europe that need to be taken into account. I could provide this “European perspective”.

2. As a friend of mine told me, “this is important enough that we need more than one good book on the topic”. I can’t, of course, guarantee that my book will be “good”, but I promise that I’ll do my best. 😉

Parents and educators of Francophonia need a guide to their teenagers’ internet. And beyond that, we need to understand the impact all these technological spaces are having on the way we build relationships and relate to each other.

Similar Posts:

Informations et prévention: adolescents et internet [fr]

[en] An overview of the different talks and trainings I can do regarding teenagers on the internet. I can do them in English too, but most of my clients here are French-speaking. If you'd like more information about this in English, please leave a comment or drop me a line.

Alors qu’un ami me raconte un épisode désastreux de conférence consacrée aux “dangers d’internet”, je me dis qu’il est temps que je récrive à la directrice d'[Action Innocence](http://www.actioninnocence.org/suisse/index.asp?antenne_news=22&navig=15), avec qui j’ai eu une discussion tout à fait sympathique et intéressante il y a quelques semaines.

“Déçue en bien”, comme on dit par ici. Si [nos avis](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/27/myspace-supprime-les-profils-de-29000-delinquants-sexuels/) [divergent](http://flickr.com/photos/julianbleecker/385705252/) quant au risque réel que courent les enfants et adolescents d’être victimes de pédophiles à cause de leurs activités en ligne (chat, diffusions d’informations personnelles) nous sommes assez sur la même longueur d’onde pour le reste, ce qui me réjouit, vu l’important travail de prévention que fait Action Innocence dans les écoles de la région. (Après, on peut discuter des détails. Je n’aime personnellement pas trop leur matériel, par exemple, que je trouve alarmiste, mais dans le fond, on cherche la même chose: informer et prévenir sans diaboliser internet.)

Le mail que j’ai envoyé contient des informations sur le travail que j’accomplis dans le domaine “adolescents et internet”. Comme c’est une assez bonne synthèse et que [mon site professionnel](http://stephanie-booth.com) n’est plus trop à jour (quand je dis que [la meilleure formule de site professionnel c’est le blog](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/09/08/comment-se-faire-connaitre-comme-independant/), je ne rigole pas!), je vais reproduire-adapter tout ça ici.

Donc, voici quelques informations sur les services que je fournis dans le contexte “éducatif” ou “adolescents et internet”, et mes tarifs. Je suis toujours ouverte à d’autres propositions — je n’ai pas de “liste de prestations” fixe dont je ne dévie pas.

#### Conférences

Généralement dans des écoles/associations. Approche information-prévention. Contenu adapté aux besoins du client (général, accent sur les blogs, accent sur le chat, la permanence des contenus numériques), et même si nécessaire en réaction spécifique à des “problèmes” concrets qui ont été rencontrés.

**Parents**: visite guidée de l’internet social, discussion des risques et difficultés rencontrés par les ados en ligne (environ 1h30)

**Enseignants, Educateurs**: présentation des différents outils de l’internet social, utilisation par les adolescents (+risques), ouvertures pédagogiques (45-90 minutes)

**Adolescents, Elèves (dès la 5ème)**: adapté à la tranche d’âge, en groupes de 2-3 classes max. (environ 50 élèves), sensibilisation aux différents enjeux d’une présence active en ligne, prévention contre les risques qu’ils peuvent y rencontrer (45-75 minutes)

#### Formations

Diverses formations sont possibles, contenu précis à négocier au cas par cas. Exemples:

– formation plus spécifique de responsables informatique, médiateurs, animateurs santé aux enjeux liés à la socialisation sur internet
– formation d’intervenants “prévention/information” (générale ou spécifique, théorique ou pratique)
– comprendre les mondes virtuels (Second Life) et les dynamiques relationnelles dans les relations “online”
– technique: ouvrir un blog et l’alimenter
– applications pédagogiques du blog, du wiki, et des outils associés
– accompagnement lors de projets pédagogiques utilisant internet

#### Tarifs

Mes tarifs évoluent, mais au jour d’aujourd’hui, ils sont les suivants pour les écoles et autres clients “éducatifs-non-lucratifs”: dès CHF 500 par demi-journée, minimum une demi-journée (+ frais).

Par exemple, si je viens à midi, que je fais deux conférences pour des élèves l’après-midi, et une pour les parents le soir, on arrive à deux demi-journées = CHF 1000

Une conférence isolée compte comme demi-journée, donc CHF 500. Mais si je fais une conférence + une réunion dans la même demi-journée, c’est le même prix.

Pour les mandats plus complexes ou longs (formation, accompagnement de projet), les tarifs sont à discuter et fixer pour le mandat dans sa globalité.

#### A mon propos

– une [collection de “bios”](http://stephanie-booth.com/bio) si jamais c’est nécessaire
– [mes coordonnées](http://stephanie-booth.com/contact/)
– [page d’infos “conférences”](http://stephanie-booth.com/conferences/) (a besoin d’une mise à jour, mais ça donne une idée)
– le [matériel “thème internet”](http://ciao.ch/f/internet/infos) rédigé pour ciao.ch
– la liste (d’une longueur effrayante) de [mes interventions dans la presse](http://climbtothestars.org/about/presse) (pas toutes au sujet des ados et internet)

J’approche internet comme une culture étrangère avec laquelle il faut se familiariser, afin de la connaître et de la comprendre. Je suis immergée dans cette culture depuis maintenant bientôt dix ans, et je la comprends en profondeur aussi bien de l’intérieur que de l’extérieur, avec le recul que me donne ma formation universitaire en sciences humaines.

Similar Posts:

MySpace supprime les profils de 29'000 "délinquants sexuels" [en]

Il y a quelques jours, on a attiré mon attention sur [cet article de la BBC](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6914870.stm), qui rapporte que le site [MySpace](http://myspace.com) (une sorte de super-[Skyblog](http://skyblog.com) d’origine américaine) a supprimé de son site les profils de 29’000 “délinquants sexuels” (“sex offenders”).

J’ai écrit deux billets à ce sujet en anglais, qui ont reçu pas mal de couverture dans la blogosphère anglophone. J’ai aussi été interviewée par la radio BBC World suite à mon message leur signalant ma réaction.

– [MySpace Banning Sex Offenders: Online Predator Paranoia](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/myspace-banning-sex-offenders-online-predator-paranoia/) (liens vers ce billet chez d’autres blogueurs: [cosmos Technorati](http://technorati.com/search/http%3A//climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/myspace-banning-sex-offenders-online-predator-paranoia/))
– [Parents, Teenagers, Internet, Predators, Fear…](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/parents-teenagers-internet-predators-fear/) (liens vers ce billet chez d’autres blogueurs: [cosmos Technorati](http://technorati.com/search/http%3A//climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/parents-teenagers-internet-predators-fear/))
– [interview BBC World](http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/networks/wservice/aod.shtml?wservice/world_hys_wed) (je parle à la minute 34, le sujet commence à 29:30)

Ces deux billets comportent un résumé bref en français que je reproduis ici pour plus de commodité.

> MySpace exclut de son site 29’000 “sex offenders” (des gens qui ont été accusés de crimes sexuels) enregistrés. C’est problématique d’une part car suivant l’Etat dans lequel elles ont été condamnées, ces personnes enregistrées peuvent être coupables de choses aussi anodines que: relations homosexuelles, nudisme, uriner dans un lieu public, faire l’amour dans un lieu public, etc. D’autre part, je rappelle les chiffres provenant d’une récente étude sur les crimes sexuels impliquant des minteurs, qui vont à l’encontre de l’idée qu’on se fait habituellement de ce genre de cas. En agissant ainsi, possiblement poussés par la paranoïa ambiante, MySpace contribue à cette paranoïa. Je regrette que la presse joue systématiquement le jeu de la peur et ne se fasse pas l’avocate d’une attitude moins paniquée face à la question des prédateurs sexuels en ligne. (En résumé: les enfants courent plus de risques hors ligne qu’en ligne, et probablement bien plus à chaque fois qu’ils montent dans une voiture ou traversent la route…)

Stephanie Booth, MySpace Banning Sex Offenders: Online Predator Paranoia

Conseils aux parents (après mon interview à la BBC ce soir au sujet des “sex offenders” bannis de MySpace):

  • pas de panique, les prédateurs sexuels tels que nous les présentent les médias ne sont pas légion, votre enfant ne court pas des risques immodérés en étant sur internet;
  • dialoguez avec votre enfant; intéressez-vous à ce qu’il fait en ligne;
  • souvenez-vous que fournir des informations personnelles n’est pas un très grand risque; par contre, s’engager dans des relations de séduction avec des inconnus ou des amis adultes en ligne l’est.

J’ai écrit relativement peu en anglais à ce sujet jusqu’à maintenant. En français, lisez Adolescents, MySpace, internet: citations de danah boyd et Henry Jenkins, De la “prévention internet”, les billets en rapport avec mon projet de livre sur les adolescents et internet, et la documentation à l’attention des ados que j’ai rédigée pour ciao.ch.

Stephanie Booth, Parents, Teenagers, Internet, Predators, Fear…

Donc, en faisant ma tournée sur [technorati, pour voir qui a mentionné dans son blog l’article de la BBC](http://technorati.com/search/http%3A//news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6914870.stm), je suis tombée sur [un billet en français qui se réjouissait de la nouvelle](http://etjesigne.free.fr/blog/?p=57). Mon long commentaire à ce billet devenant trop long, j’ai décidé de le faire ici, sur mon blog, et du coup, de parler un peu de cette histoire pour mes lecteurs francophones:

> Bonne nouvelle signée MySpace qui vient de supprimer 29.000 profils de délinquants sexuels américains errants sur son espace qui compte 80 millions internautes. La suppression a été effectuée grâce à son partenariat avec le bureau de vérification Sentinel Tech Holding Crop qui développe une base de données nationale de délinquants sexuels. La législation américaine facilite cette tâche car elle permet de consulter librement les fiches de ces déliquants sur le site du ministère de la justice…

M/S, MySpace a les yeux sur les délinquants sexuels

Comme je l’explique donc dans [ma réaction à l’article de la BBC](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/myspace-banning-sex-offenders-online-predator-paranoia/) **ce n’est pas une si bonne nouvelle que ça**. Ce sont les états qui définissent ce qu’est un “délinquant sexuel”, et suivant où, on peut être sur une de ces listes pour avoir montré ses fesses en public. De plus, les profils supprimés seraient ceux où l’adresse e-mail fournie correspond à celle qui se trouve dans le dossier des délinquants sexuels. Vous pensez vraiment qu’un “pervers à la recherche de victimes” (et encore, voir plus bas pour ma réfutation de la forme qu’on donne au problème) serait aussi bête?

Aussi, la problématique des prédateurs sexuels sur internet est dramatisée et déformée par les médias. Tout d’abord, on perd de vue que la grande majorité des crimes sexuels sur mineurs impliquent la famille ou des amis proches de la famille (et non des inconnus ou “connaissances” provenant d’internet). Les cas faisant intervenir internet sont une minorité, et sont plus de l’ordre “relation de séduction d’ados” que “duperie et enlèvement d’enfants”. On peut légitimement se demander si une telle action de la part de MySpace est vraiment utile (il s’agit en fait plus de sauvegarder leur image), et si on n’est pas en train de se donner bonne conscience tout en évitant de faire de la prévention utile, mais quelque peu plus complexe (puisqu’il s’agit d’aller plonger dans la façon dont les adolescents vivent l’éveil de leur sexualité et de leurs premières relations amoureuses). Voir à ce sujet [De la “prévention internet”](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/17/de-la-prevention-internet/), billet qui, au milieu de mes grands questionnements, aborde cette question.

Mon ami [Kevin Anderson](http://strange.corante.com), journaliste américain vivant à Londres, a écrit un excellent billet au sujet de toute cette histoire suite à un interview assez frustrant qu’il a donné à la BBC: [‘Think of the children’. Yes, but also think about the journalism](http://strange.corante.com/archives/2007/07/26/think_of_the_children_yes_but_also_think_about_the_journalism.php). Entre autres, il en appelle à la presse, qui couvre systématiquement ce genre d’événement selon l’angle “mon Dieu, ça grouille de pédophiles sur internet, enfin on fait quelque chose, mais est-ce suffisant?”

> I am taking an issue with the format and the journalistic assumptions made. Yes, there is a problem here, but it’s not the one that is being shouted in the headlines. The facts don’t support the sensationalist story of a predator lurking behind every MySpace profile or blog post. As Steph points out in her posts, the threat to youth isn’t in them having blogs or being on social networks. The problem is one of emotionally vulnerable teens being preyed upon by opportunistic adults. It’s more complicated and less emotive than saying: Keep the paedos off of MySpace.

Kevin Anderson, ‘Think of the children’. Yes, but also think about the journalism

Après mon interview à la BBC il y a deux jours, j’ai envoyé à quelques (3-4) journalistes romands de ma connaissance un e-mail contenant un appel à une couverture plus “réaliste” que “sensationnelle” de cette histoire. Voici à quelques variations près le message que j’ai envoyé:

> Vous avez peut-être entendu parler du fait que MySpace a “viré” de son
site 29’000 personnes se trouvant sur les listes de délinquants
sexuels tenues par les Etats aux USA. J’ai écrit une assez longue
réaction à ce sujet (en anglais) et me suis également faite
interviewer par la BBC.

> En deux mots:

> – la définition de “sex offender” est problématique (dans certains
états, on peut finir sur ces listes pour avoir montré ses fesses ou eu
des relations homosexuelles)
– une telle action de la part de MySpace (pour sauver leur image,
principalement) est problématique d’une part car elle renforce la peur
(peu justifiée) ambiante autour des prédateurs sexuels en ligne, et
d’autre part car c’est une mesure peu utile car elle est déconnectée
de la réalité des “problèmes/agressions à caractère sexuel” que
rencontrent les ados en ligne.

> [liens vers mes deux articles]

> Je ne sais pas si c’est votre rayon ou non et si ça vous intéresse,
mais si vous connaissez quelqu’un qui serait susceptible de couvrir
cette histoire sous cet angle (un angle qui manque cruellement dans
les médias “traditionnels”) n’hésitez pas à leur dire de prendre
contact avec moi (+41 78 625 44 74).

Deux réponses intéressées à ce jour (une personne en vacances qui a retransmis le mail, et un quotidien local pour qui ce n’est peut-être pas évident de couvrir un tel sujet international). Je réitère donc ici mon appel: y’a-t-il une publication romande qui veuille relever le défi?

Similar Posts:

Parents, Teenagers, Internet, Predators, Fear… [en]

[fr] Conseils aux parents (après mon interview à la BBC ce soir au sujet des "sex offenders" bannis de MySpace):

  • pas de panique, les prédateurs sexuels tels que nous les présentent les médias ne sont pas légion, votre enfant ne court pas des risques immodérés en étant sur internet;
  • dialoguez avec votre enfant; intéressez-vous à ce qu'il fait en ligne;
  • souvenez-vous que fournir des informations personnelles n'est pas un très grand risque; par contre, s'engager dans des relations de séduction avec des inconnus ou des amis adultes en ligne l'est.

J'ai écrit relativement peu en anglais à ce sujet jusqu'à maintenant. En français, lisez Adolescents, MySpace, internet: citations de danah boyd et Henry Jenkins, De la “prévention internet”, les billets en rapport avec mon projet de livre sur les adolescents et internet, et la documentation à l'attention des ados que j'ai rédigée pour ciao.ch.

**Update:** [radio stream is up](http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/networks/wservice/aod.shtml?wservice/world_hys_wed) and will be so until next Wednesday. MySpace piece starts at 29:30, and I start talking shortly after 34:00. Use the right-facing arrow at the top of the player to move forwards. Sorry you can’t go backwards.

I was just interviewed by [BBC World Have Your Say](http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/worldhaveyoursay/) (radio, links will come) about the [MySpace banning sex offenders](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/myspace-banning-sex-offenders-online-predator-paranoia/) story. (They didn’t find me, though, I sent them a note pointing to my blog post through the form on their site.) Here’s a bit of follow-up information for people who might just have arrived here around this issue.

First, I’m often asked what advice I give to parents regarding the safety of their children online (the BBC asked this question but I didn’t get to answer). So here’s my basic advice, and a few things to keep in mind:

– don’t panic — the media make the whole online sexual predator issue sound much worse than it is; (they might even be more at risk offline than online if they’re “normal” kids who do not generally engage in risky behaviour, given that most perpetrators of sex crimes against minors are family members or ‘known people’)
– **talk** with your kids about what they do online; **dialog is essential, as in many educational situations;** show interest, it’s part of their lives, and it might be an important one; start early, by introducing them to the internet yourself, rather than letting them loose on it to fend for themselves from day one;
– keep in mind that sharing personal information is not the greater risk: engaging in talk of a sexual nature with strangers/adult friends is, however <insert something about proper sexual education here>;

I regularly give talks in schools, and I speak to students, teachers, and parents — all three if possible, but not at the same time, because the message is not the same, of course. When I talk to parents, I see a lot of very scared/concerned parents who understand very little about the *living internet* their kids spend so much time in. But they read the mainstream media, and they’ve heard how the internet is this horrible place teeming with sexual predators, lurking in chatrooms and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, on the look-out for their next victim.

I may be dramatizing a little, but this is basically the state of mind I find parents in. I’ll jump on this occasion to introduce a piece by [Anastasia Goodstein](http://www.ypulse.com/): [Dangers Overblown for Teens Using Social Media](http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2007/06/fear_factordangers_overblown_f.html). I’m quite ashamed to say I only discovered Anastasia and her work about a month ago — we seem to cover similar ground, and I’m really impressed by what I see of her online (for example, she’s actually [published a book about teens online](http://www.amazon.com/Totally-Wired-Tweens-Really-Online/dp/0312360126) whereas I’m stuck-stalled in the process of trying to get started writing mine — in French). She also [reacted to the MySpace Sex Offender Saga](http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anastasia-goodstein/the-myspace-sex-offender-_b_57793.html).

Anyway, my job when I’m talking to parents is usually:

– **play “tourist guide”** to introduce them to this strange internet culture (my background in Indian culture clearly helps me manage the cross-cultural internet/offline dialogue) — I encourage them to try chatting (find a friend who chats and can help you sign up to MSN to chat with her/him) and blogging (head off to [WordPress.com](http://wordpress.com) and write about random stuff you’re interested in for a couple of months)
– **de-dramatize** the whole “internet predator” thing so they’re not as tense when it comes to having their kids online, or being online themselves, and put forward the positive aspects of having an online life too.

What am I concerned about, when it comes to teens online? A bunch of things, but not really sick old men in raincoats posing as little girls in chatrooms or MySpace profiles.

– their blissful unawareness of how permanent digital media is; photos, videos, text etc. are all out of your control once they’ve left your hands; easy to multiply and distribute, they could very well be there for ever; they also don’t realize that all their digital interactions (particularly webcam stuff) is recordable, and that nothing is *really* private;
– their perception of the online world as “uncharted territories” where all is allowed, where there are no rules, no laws, no adult presence; for that, I blame adults who do not accompany their young children online at first, who do not show any interest in what’s going on online for their kids, and who do not *go online* to be there too; teens need adult presence online to help them learn to become responsible internet citizens, just as they do offline; our fear of predators is resulting in teenager-only spaces which I’m not sure are really that great;
– their certainty that one can evade rules/law/morals by being anonymous online and hiding; we’ve told them so much to stay hidden (from predators), and that one can be anonymous online (like predators) that they think they can hide (from parents, guardians, teachers);
– their idea that what is online is up for grabs (I’m not going to stand up against what the record companies call “piracy” — that’s for another blog post — but I do feel very strongly about crediting people for their work, and respecting terms individuals or small businesses set for their work).

There are other things which are important, but discussed so little, because “online predators” is such a scary issue that it makes everything else seem unimportant: the “chat effect” (why is it easy to “fall in love over chat”?), findability of online stuff (yeah, by parents, teachers, future bosses), what to say and what not to say online (“what am I comfortable with?”), gaming environments like WoW…

One thing we need to remember is that kids/teens are not passive victims. Some teens are actively seeking certain types of relationships online, and when they do, chances are they’ll find them (proof the “catch a predator” operations in which “normal people” or policemen pose as lusty/consenting teens to trap dirty predators… sure it works, but most teens aren’t like that!)

I remember getting in touch with a kid who had an account on Xanga. He had lifted some HTML code from my site, and visits to his page were showing up in my stats. I asked him to remove it (“hey, lifting code like that isn’t cool!”) and he didn’t react. I found his ICQ number and messaged him, and he was outright obnoxious. A few days later, he started messaging me vulgar messages out of the blue (“I want to f*** you, b****!”). We finally trapped him, a friend of mine posing as a Xanga official who scared him a bit so he’d remove the code from his site, and who actually had a long, long talk with him. He was 9 years old.

If you came here via the BBC, leave a comment to let me know what you think about these issues, or what your experience is!

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MySpace Banning Sex Offenders: Online Predator Paranoia [en]

**Update:** If you’re a parent looking for advice, you’ll probably find [my next post](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/07/25/parents-teenagers-internet-predators-fear/) more interesting.

[MySpace has removed profiles of 29’000 registered sex offenders](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6914870.stm) from their site.

> In a statement, MySpace said: “We’re pleased that we’ve successfully identified and removed registered sex offenders from our site and hope that other social networking sites follow our lead.”

BBC News, MySpace bars 29,000 sex offenders, July 2007

Sounds like a good move, doesn’t it?

Maybe not so.

First, what is a sex offender? A sex offender is somebody on the state registry of people who have been convicted of sex crimes. A sex offender is not necessarily a pedophile. And in some states… a sex offender might not have done anything really offensive.

Listen to [Regina Lynn](http://www.reginalynn.com/wordpress/), author of the popular [Wired column Sex Drive](http://www.wired.com/commentary/sexdrive) and the book [The Sexual Revolution 2.0](http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1569754772):

> Lately I’ve been wondering if I’ll end up on the sex offender registry. Not because I have any intention of harming anyone, but because it has recently come to my attention that in a flurry of joie de vivre I might have broken a sex law.

> You see, I keep hearing these stories of mild infractions that led to listing on the sex-offender registry alongside child molesters, rapists and abusive spouses. There’s the girl who bared her ass out a bus window in college and pled guilty to indecent exposure — and then couldn’t become an elementary school teacher because of her sex offense. Then there’s the guy who peed on a bush in a park and was convicted of public lewdness, a sex offender because he couldn’t find a bathroom.

> […]

> But sometimes I do skirt the edge of the law when it comes to sex. And if you’ve ever ducked into the bushes for a little al fresco fondling, so have you.

> Unfortunately, even in California, it’s not technically legal to make discreet love in public spaces, even in your truck, even if it has a camper shell with dark windows and Liberator furniture, even if no one can see you without pressing his nose to the glass or hoisting her children up over her head.

> And if a passerby does intrude on your personal moment, it’s no longer a matter of “OK kids, pack it up and get out of here.” A witness’s cell-phone video could be on the internet within five minutes. A busybody might even feel justified in calling the police.

> “If someone saw something that offended them and they wanted to sign a citizen’s arrest, the officer is obliged to take the citizen’s arrest,” says Inspector Poelstra of the Sexual Offender Unit of the San Francisco Police Department, who spoke with me by phone.

Regina Lynn, Could You End Up on a Sex Offender Registry?, April 2007

[Critics of Megan’s Law](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megan’s_Law#Criticism), which requires convicted sex offenders to register with the state, have also put forward that the registries include people it would be rather far-fetched to consider a threat to our children’s safety.

> But the laws have unexpected implications. Consider California, whose 1996 Megan’s Law requires creating a CD-ROM database of convicted sex offenders, available to the public. (The state has had a registry of sex offenders since 1944.) The Los Angeles Times reports that this new database is turning up many ancient cases of men arrested for consensual gay sex in public or semi-public places, some of them youthful experiments of men who went on to long married lives. One man, arrested in 1944 for touching the knee of another man in a parked car, was surprised when his wife collected the mail containing an envelope, stamped “sex crime” in red ink, telling him he needed to register as a sex offender. Many of these men are going through humiliating confrontations with long-forgotten aspects of their past, and complicated and expensive legal maneuverings to get themselves off the list. “It’s a real concern,” says Suzanne Goldberg of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, which works on legal issues involving gays. “These laws have the potential to sweep in more people than they should. Laws requiring registration of people engaging in consensual sex are far beyond the pale. Those requirements can have devastating effects on people’s lives.”

Brian Doherty, Megan’s Flaws?, June 1997

These concerns about indiscriminate lumping together of “sex offenders” in the light of the online predator paranoia were already raised in January when MySpace handed over a database containing information about sex offenders to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, on [Violet Blue::Open Source Sex](http://www.tinynibbles.com/blogarchives/2007/01/myspace_and_the_sex_offenders.html) and [Sex Drive Daily](http://blog.wired.com/sex/2007/01/myspace_hands_o.html). *(As an aside, I now find myself wondering if this post is going to get me blacklisted by internet security filters left and right… How ironic that would be.)*

> These are state registries, and depending on the state you’re in, you’re a “sex offender” under Megan’s Law if you get caught urinating in public, mooning, skinny dipping, or if you get busted having consensual sex in public. Think of how lopsided these charges must be in homophobic states. Also, it’s a lesson in what sites like MySpace can and will do with personal information. I’m definitely an advocate for speeding up natural selection when it comes to rapists and pedophiles, but I worry about what could happen to individuals and personal privacy when a questionably informed company casts a wide net, and turns it over to anyone who asks.

Violet Blue, MySpace and the Sex Offenders, Jan. 2007

In addition to that, we need to totally rethink the views we have on how sexual predators act online. The old pervert lurking in chatrooms is more a media construct and a product of [the culture of fear](http://www.amazon.com/Culture-Fear-Americans-Afraid-Things/dp/0465014909) we live in than a reality our kids are likely to bump into, [as I said recently in an interview on BBC News](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/05/21/video-bbc-interview-teenagers-facebook/ “Watch the short video.”). Remember kids are way more likely to be abused by a person they know (family, friends) than by a random stranger. I’ll assume you don’t have the time to read through [the whole 34-page transcript](http://www.netcaucus.org/events/2007/youth/20070503transcript.pdf) of the [panel danah boyd participated in](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/05/11/just_the_facts.html) a few months ago, so here are the most significant excerpt about this issue (yes, I’m excerpting a lot in this post, but this is an important issue and I know people read better if they don’t need to click away). Here is what Dr. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against
Children Research Center and the codirector of the Family Research
Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, has to say:

> Now, on the case of internet sex crimes against kids, I’m concerned
that we’re already off to a bad start here. The public and the
professional impression about what’s going on in these kinds of
crimes is not in sync with the reality, at least so far as we can
ascertain it on the basis of research that we’ve done. And this
research has really been based on some large national studies of
cases coming to the attention of law enforcement as well as to large
national surveys of youth.

> If you think about what the public impression is about this crime,
it’s really that we have these internet pedophiles who’ve moved
from the playground into your living room through the internet
connection, who are targeting young children by pretending to be
other children who are lying about their ages and their identities and
their motives, who are tricking kids into disclosing personal
information about themselves or harvesting that information from
blogs or websites or social networking sites. Then armed with this
information, these criminals stalk children. They abduct them.
They rape them, or even worse.

>But actually, the research in the cases that we’ve gleaned from
actual law enforcement files, for example, suggests a different
reality for these crimes. So first fact is that the predominant online
sex crime victims are not young children. They are teenagers.
There’s almost no victims in the sample that we collected from – a
representative sample of law enforcement cases that involved the
child under the age of 13.

> In the predominant sex crime scenario, doesn’t involve violence,
stranger molesters posing online as other children in order to set up
an abduction or assault. Only five percent of these cases actually
involved violence. Only three percent involved an abduction. It’s
also interesting that deception does not seem to be a major factor.
Only five percent of the offenders concealed the fact that they were
adults from their victims. Eighty percent were quite explicit about
their sexual intentions with the youth that they were communicating
with.

> So these are not mostly violence sex crimes, but they are criminal
seductions that take advantage of teenage, common teenage
vulnerabilities. The offenders lure teens after weeks of
conversations with them, they play on teens’ desires for romance,
adventure, sexual information, understanding, and they lure them to
encounters that the teams know are sexual in nature with people who
are considerably older than themselves.

> So for example, Jenna – this is a pretty typical case – 13-year-old
girl from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chat rooms, had
the screen name “Evil Girl.” There she met a guy who, after a
number of conversations, admitted he was 45. He flattered her, gave
– sent her gifts, jewelry. They talked about intimate things. And
eventually, he drove across several states to meet her for sex on
several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested in her
company, she was reluctant to cooperate with the law enforcement
authorities.

David Finkelhor, in panel Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths, May 2007

Let me summarize the important facts and figures from this excerpt and the next few pages. The numbers are based on a sample of law enforcement cases which Finkelhor et al. performed research upon:

– most victims of “online predators” are teenagers, not young children
– only 5% of cases involved violence
– only 3% involved abduction
– deception does not seem to be a major factor
– 5% of offenders concealed the fact they were adults from their victimes
– 80% of offenders were quite explicit about their sexual intentions
– these crimes are “criminal seductions”, sexual relationships between teenagers and older adults
– 73% of cases include multiple sexual encounters
– in half the cases, victims are described as being in love with the offender or feeling close friendship
– in a quarter of the cases, victims had actually ran away from home to be with the person they met online
– only 7% of arrests for statutory rape in 2000 were internet-initiated

I find these figures very sobering. Basically, our kids are more at risk offline than online. No reason to panic! About this last figure, listen to Dr. Michele Ybarra, president of Internet
Solutions for Kids:

> One victimization is
one too many. We watch the television, however, and it makes it
seem as if the internet is so unsafe that it’s impossible for young
people to engage on the internet without being victimized. Yet
based upon data compiled by Dr. Finkelhor’s group, of all the arrests
made in 2000 for statutory rape, it appears that seven percent were
internet initiated. So that means that the overwhelming majority are
still initiated offline.

Michele Ybarra, in panel Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths, May 2007

I digress a little, but all this shows us that we need to go way beyond “don’t give out personal information, don’t chat with strangers” to keep teenagers safe from the small (but real, yes) number of sexual predators online:

> Our research, actually looking at what puts kids at risk for receiving
the most serious kinds of sexual solicitation online, suggests that it’s
not giving out personal information that puts kid at risk. It’s not
having a blog or a personal website that does that either. What puts
kids in danger is being willing to talk about sex online with
strangers or having a pattern of multiple risky activities on the web
like going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there,
kind of behaving in what we call like an internet daredevil.

> We think that in order to address these crimes and prevent them,
we’re gonna have to take on a lot more awkward and complicated
topics that start with an acceptance of the fact that some teens are
curious about sex and are looking for romance and adventure and
take risks when they do that. We have to talk to them about their
decision making if they are doing things like that.

David Finkelhor, in panel Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths, May 2007

So, bottom line — what do I think? I think that MySpace’s announcement is more of a PR stunt than anything. This kind of action is the result of the ambient paranoia around sexual predators online, but it also fuels it. If MySpace are doing that, it must mean that we are right to be afraid, doesn’t it? I think it is a great pity that the media systematically jump on the fear-mongering bandwagon. We need more sane voices in the mainstream press.

Here is a collection of links related to this issue. Some I have mentioned in the body of the post, some I have not.

MySpace bars 29,000 sex offenders
Could You End Up on a Sex Offender Registry?
MySpace and the Sex Offenders
Megan’s Flaws?
Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths ([see danah’s post for YouTube video](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/05/11/just_the_facts.html))
– [Video: BBC Interview (Teenagers, Facebook)](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/05/21/video-bbc-interview-teenagers-facebook/)
– [Adolescents, MySpace, internet: citations de danah boyd et Henry Jenkins](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/12/20/adolescents-myspace-internet-citations-de-danah-boyd-et-henry-jenkins/) (quotes are in English)
– [De la “prévention internet”](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/17/de-la-prevention-internet/)

*note: comments are moderated for first-time commenters.*

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