Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown
January 14th, 2009

The above headline is from a New York Times story yesterday. Today the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, released the full report. The page with Berkman’s podcast about the report says: “An exhaustively researched report on the safety of the web is the result of a year of work for the Internet Safety Technical Task Force. The report reveals some surprises about just how safe the web and social networks really are for minors, and some recommendations for dealing with sexual predators, cyberbullying, and access to explicit content.”

The following is from the NYT story, summarizing the report. The article continues with response from critics who disagree.

The Internet may not be such a dangerous place for children after all.

A task force created by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem.

The findings ran counter to popular perceptions of online dangers as reinforced by depictions in the news media like NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” series. One attorney general was quick to criticize the group’s report.

The panel, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, was charged with examining the extent of the threats children face on social networks like MySpace and Facebook, amid widespread fears that adults were using these popular Web sites to deceive and prey on children.

But the report concluded that the problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults.

“This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet,” said John Cardillo, chief executive of Sentinel Tech Holding, which maintains a sex offender database and was part of the task force. “Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons.”

The 278-page report, released Tuesday, was the result of a year of meetings between dozens of academics, experts in childhood safety and executives of 30 companies, including Yahoo, AOL, MySpace and Facebook. . . .

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