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 proposal in preparation for the Frankfurt Book Fair 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. She has traveled all over the US and interviewed dozens of teens for her PHD. Another is Anastasia Goodstein, who has written the excellent book “Totally Wired“, 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.

11 thoughts on “A Book on Teenagers and the Internet [en]

  1. I will be very interested in reading your book. Indeed danah boyd is one of the main researchers in the field of adolescence and internet, and her blog is one of my favourite reads and inspiration. I am in Ireland, researching for a PhD on Irish adolescents and their blogs; originally was going to look at French and Irish blogs, but it became too difficult to manage within the scope of a PhD; I had done a good bit of research though, and certainly did not find very much already written. Bon courage et bravo!

  2. Just remembered though, one book in French on young people and digital culture: Le pouce et la souris, Pascal Lardellier, 2006, Fayard.

  3. I applaud your efforts to spread the word in your country. Perhaps you would gain some more insight from checking out my book “EXPOSED: The Harrowing Story of a Mother’s Undercover Work with the FBI to Save Children from Internet Sex Predators.” (Thomas Nelson, April 2007). I’ve volunteered with the FBI for four years to identify and prosecute Internet sex predators and I wrote the book after being asked to tell everyone what I have learned. I wish you the best of luck with your project. Feel free to write for advice or to simply communicate. 🙂
    Email: [email protected].

  4. Cathy: thanks a lot, will check it out!

    Stephanie: don’t worry about the duplicate comments, they were caught in moderation. I checked out your book page, and from what I see, we seem to quite a different attitude towards the “sexual predator” problem. This post doesn’t really make my position clear, but my previous writing in English on the subject should. I think that the problem is completely overblown and over-dramatized. Of course, I haven’t read your book or done the work you have with the FBI, but I think there is something fundamentally flawed in an approach (like Dateline’s, by the way) which relies on adults posing as “kid-victims” in chatrooms. I’d rather use these facts and research as a basis for the work I do.

  5. I suppose if you research hard enough you can find just about any statistic that makes your case seem credible. However, after years of working in the area of child predators and sex offenders, I can assure you that it is far from overblown and definitely not about urinating in public. Perhaps there is an old law on the books somewhere about urinating that somebody found and used to make a case, but it is not the rule. Maybe you should meet some of the many child victims of Internet sex crimes as I have or possibly it would help you to see the men who are in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s who have not only solicited me for sex thinking that I was 12, but who have asked me to bring my much younger friends along – 8 year olds. Then there are the older guys who have shown up for meetings with weapons and drugs thinking they were meeting a 12 or 13 year old. Some of these men have been stopped by law enforcement squads, but don’t forget that many of them are repeat offenders. Sex offenders have an extremely high rate of recidivism. Unfortunately, some people may get punished unjustly, but the law is the law and if anyone is caught with a minor, they are breaking the law. It’s not as though I believe that it’s fair to arrest a teenager who has consensual sex with someone a year younger, but they do know the law and they do run the risk of going to prison if they get caught. However, none of the cases I have been involved with or have seen have been anywhere close to that. In fact, we do not prosecute those kinds of cases unless it is clear that the person is a predisposed sex offender. Remember, the key word is predisposed. That is part of the threshold for conviction. Also, understand that the state system is much different than the federal. I do believe that the state system doesn’t work as well as the federal and I also believe that the checks and balances in the federal system work to ensure that an arrest and conviction are valid and well-deserved. To see you write that the situation is overblown is sad. Personal experience has taught me that it is an epidemic. Take a good look at some of the websites out there created by sex offenders who stalk children and who have gathered together others to reinforce their deviant behavior. There are thousands of them. I’ve worked hard to get some of them shut down and I’ve been successful. There’s an entire underground of child sexual predators, sex traffickers, slave masters, and others who go after kids without a thought. It is serious and it is rampant. I would have to question your defense of them as I cannot understand anyone who would go to the extreme of trying to minimize this problem unless they are actually a part of the problem. I do hope that is not the case. Either way, thank you for allowing me to express my opinion on your page.

  6. R Stephanie: Wohoh. That’s rude. Be really carefull with this kind of assumptions.

    What I understand about Stephanie’s point of view is that the problem is overblown and over-dramatized in the wrong way. The real problem is Internet education. Parents of children who get caught by sexual predators didn’t grew in an Internet world. At this moment,the aim is to educate the parents to Internet so they can understand what their children do with it. A parent unaware of the way Internet works is less likely to react appropriately to his child saying “I’m chating with my new 10 yo. friend” than a parent who understands how we deal with identity on the Web.

    For me the steps are:
    1. Get the parents aware of how Internet works, not of the dangers only.
    2. Get the parents to understand their children’s activities and behaviours on the Internet.
    3. Get the parents to talk about the Internet and its dangers with their children.

    And I think Stephanie’s book is just about that. Or am I wrong?

  7. @RSG: your comment shows with no doubt that there is a need for a non-US-centric approach to the safety issues on the net. Would it be on a legal side only, “being predisposed” is not something that you can demonstrate and that would make a valid case in France, up to my knowledge (I leave in france, but I’m not a lawyer).

    That directs me to my first thought reading Stephanie’s post, even before the comment: different cultures have highly different approaches to these kinds of problems. I have been in a very good position to understand this when supervising AOL’s Parental Controls for France, but with directions set by the US. There was a fundamental disconnect.

    In France, we rely a lot more on education of children than on trying to trap the malevolent people. There are multiple reasons to this:
    – you won’t ever be able to trap all people who act bad (thinking that they are all predisposed would be completely crazy and 1984-minded – although there is evidence that some people, and quite a number in the US, do think so).
    – acceptable contents will vary from one person to another, so you as a parent should be the one to define the exact contents and thus services that you would allow your child to access.
    – inapropriate contents are each day easier to find or stumble upon. Youtube has a lot of things that you may not want your children to watch, even though they are legally available. So you should make your children aware and train them to surf as safely as possible.
    – you may control what your children are accessing online at home, but don’t forget that they have numerous ways to access the internet as it becomes available in a great number of places.

  8. I certainly did not intend to be rude and I apologize if my message came off that way. I am very passionate about this subject having seen so much hurt and pain that sexual offenders cause. I do realize that people get caught in the crossfire, but most of the people on the sex offender’s lists are true offenders and there is a definite need for the list. Due to the extremely high recidivism rate, people need to know if one of them moves in next door or looks for a job in a place where children frequent. And, of course, education of the children is the key. I advocate very strongly for that. But, realistically speaking, not all parents talk to their children about these types of dangers and many parents don’t think anything can happen to their own children. The next thing to do is to stop the offenders. Yes, there is a predisposition and it has to be proven in court when someone claims they were entrapped. Predisposition doesn’t mean they have done it before or that you have to prove that they have gone after other children. If an adult instant messages a child on the Internet and then, knowing the person they are chatting with is a child, continues to chat and talks about sex and arranges to meet the child and shows up, right there, the fact that the person continued with their behavior without being prodded, that goes towards predisposition. Also, many of these adults are found to have child porn or are members of websites that have child porn or various other things that lead the jury to conclude they were not entrapped and that they were predisposed. There are cases on the Internet, including the ones that I have been involved in, where the issue is discussed at length.

    The last sentence of the post before mine really says it all. You can’t control what the children are doing. The only feasible answer is to try to stop the adults who go after them before they strike. If you had done the work the I do, you would see for yourself how rampant the problem is. I, too, don’t like what Dateline does, but my work is very different. My cases are built for months, sometimes longer. I don’t lure them in or entice them at all. In fact, after juries read all of the chats and emails, they think the defendants’ excuses are so ridiculous that they always convict them. I lay it all out in my book, EXPOSED, the chats, the phone conversations, as well as transcripts from the trials at which I have testified. People need to see for themselves what the children are up against. When I hear that no real child would fall for these people, I cringe. The reason my work is so valuable is because so many children have fallen prey to them. If you look up the statistics of how many children go missing every single day, you’d be astonished. This is not something to minimize.

  9. I’m sure you have anecdotal evidence of what you say happens — and I never denied that these things happen. What I’m interested in is numbers. So far, the only serious ones I’ve found are the one in the study I like to.

    Compared to other risks kids face, how big is this one? Compared to all the other places a child can fall victim to a sexual predator, how dangerous is the internet really?


    As Taleb explains very clearly in his book The Black Swan, anecdotal evidence always beats statistics — and this is what I’m up against. Again, I’m not denying that these horrible stories happen, or even that you’re actually help stop people who are really dangerous. My concern is: should we put so much energy (worrying, stopping) into “sexual predators on the internet”, rather than other things?

    I believe there is more value in waving flags to raise general awareness about gaps in our kids’ education, rather than encouraging people to see the Big Bad Internet as something they must fear because it’s crawling with sick perverts. And that’s what happens when too much media attention is concentrated on juicy horror stories of kids disappearing and falling victim to pedophiles.

    Of course, if one’s job is unearthing the sick perverts, one is bound to have a representation of the internet filled with them — just as a therapist might, more than another person, have the impression that everybody is loaded with psych problems (not a very good parallel, but you get the idea). I talked with a local cop here in Switzerland once after he gave us a talk about “the dangers of the internet” and he said exactly that: “my job is to chase the pedophiles, and so I talk about that”.

    Hopefully it’s possible to put into question the amount of attention a real problem has drawn, and call it overblown, without being accused of negating the problem.

  10. Actually, you really can’t compare what I do to a therapist who works consistently with sexual predators, if that is what your intent is. I am solicited by sexual predators thinking I am a child. I do not instant message anyone first. They come after me. There’s a big difference. I don’t sit in an office and counsel them all day long. I am an innocent bystander who gets approached all day long by deviants. I cannot keep count of how many times a day I am approached, but I can tell you that I have had thousands of encounters and it has been hard to keep up with them in spite of communicating with several at one time. The instant messages come in constantly and if they are doing that to me thinking I am an innocent child, then they are doing it to real children. I don’t give them anything at all to entice them, not at any point whatsoever. Keep in mind that statistics are not necessarily reflective of the truth. They are generally a random sampling. It’s like trying to determine how many women are raped every day by studying rape trauma center statistics without taking into account that many women never report a rape. It’s impossible to tell how many sexual predators are on the Internet and many children don’t report what happens to them or who solicits them. The hundreds of thousands of predators on registries can’t even begin to represent how many are out there who haven’t been caught or haven’t registered. I can only say that there are so many that there aren’t enough law enforcement personnel to catch them. If you don’t understand or are not involved in the issue, it’s easy to minimize it. However, why anyone would even try to minimize something they have little experience with is beyond me. Sure – you can find other issues you may think are more compelling. It’s like anything else. You never realize how serious something is until you’re faced with it. An example is this – If your child becomes a victim, you suddenly find yourself in a whole world filled with other victim’s families and you learn how rampant something is. I had no idea how many missing people there are until I became involved with Natalee Holloway’s case. It’s astounding how many people are abducted or mysteriously disappear. But, I had no idea about that. My experience is more valuable than a statistic that somebody puts on paper from some random studies. That’s why people are asked to testify at hearings on the Hill about their experiences – so House members can hear about real victims and not numbers; so they can understand the seriousness and the way these men groom children – not numbers. The Internet may be a wonderful resource, but it has also opened a pathway for predators to more easily reach children with much less risk than approaching them in person. I can’t convince you of anything, because you haven’t walked in my shoes. But, I can tell you this – I wasn’t looking to do the work I do, but it was so compelling and so rampant that I couldn’t walk away once I got involved.

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