Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Internet scaremongering by newspaper

The Daily Mail has done one of its usual "the country is full of pedophiles" stories by having a journalist pretend to be a 14yo girl on Facebook, claiming "she" got umpteen requests from older men for sexual attention.

However, look at the comments section for the most popular, and you'll find oodles of people saying the likes of 'I'm unsure how this happened, my teenagers have been on Facebook for ages and don't have this issue as they know how to use it' or 'I used the internet since I was 11, occasionally had pervy attention and just blocked it or closed the window'.

In other words, Facebook isn't the problem. It allows you to control privacy settings, and most teenagers are smart enough to simply block unwanted attention. It's logical and rational, after all it is only words and images on a computer screen.

The bigger issue is clearly when teenagers ARE looking for this sort of attention, which is more a sign of issues with family, confidence and desperately seeking someone to listen to them and make them feel good about themselves. THAT is the issue, the seeking of self esteem from others, when it isn't effectively taught at home or school. A culture of sacrifice, altruism and belief that what matters is what you do for others, not yourself, encourages this.

Of course even with that some will be curious and daring, and make foolish mistakes. However, there are laws to prosecute people who engage in underage sex, and those who use the internet to meet young people for that purpose are leaving obvious trails to track them down and get them prosecuted. Curiously, some of the more recent cases of internet bullying have been with their peers, not adults. Will laws be created to prosecute teenagers for being mean to each other online? Or is it better to promote safe behaviour online, using defamation and harassment laws as they stand and let reason prevail?

The key point is that most teenagers most of the time look after themselves well online, and are more than competent to protect themselves and not meet strangers they find online alone in private places. The few who don't, do so for reasons that no law will fix, and those who care about them should provide means for them to be able to communicate what it is they want and why, in a non-judgmental and open manner. If they do stray, and do end up engaging in illegal behaviour offline, the criminal law remains to provide harsh penalties for those who exploit the young, and the internet is a fine tool for finding such people!

UPDATE: The Guardian reports the Daily Mail is facing the threat of a defamation suit because it initially claimed that it was Facebook that was used for this story.

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