May 2007 Archives

the ongoing hype over online predation

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MySpace reaches accord with Attorneys General - May. 21, 2007

so via Broadsheet, i noticed the news that MySpace has partnered with a "background verificantion" firm (Sentinel Tech Holdings Corp) to create a database of convicted sex offenders, which MySpace then used to begin expunging users who were cross-listed. of course, not all sex offenders are pedophiles, and statutory rape laws still mean that sometimes consenting teen couples have sex across age lines, and the older partner is charged and becomes a registered offender. but fine, so MySpace is trying to keep convicted sex offenders off the site, as a way to respond to charges from both legislators, the press, parents and others that social networking sites are havens for predators seeking to lure naive children to their lairs (or wherever) and abuse them.

According to CNN (via Reuters), MySpace worked out a legal way to hand over this information to government officials (a group of state attorney generals). So far, they've deleted about 7,000 profiles identified as belong to sex offenders (out of a total of about 180 million (that's about 0.00004% for the curious).

as usual, i think this raises some issues of privacy -- does being convicted of a sexual offense deprive you of your right to create online profiles, and is any profile you create subject to government surveillance? i imagine MySpace has some legal standing in denying accounts to sex offenders, but i think targeting all sex offenders so widely tends to conflate a range of offenses as equally dangerous, when they may not be.

but in my mind, the bigger question still revolves around the visibility of MySpace against the actual risk to young people who use the service. the Connecticut attorney general was quoted as saying "Social networking sites should not be playgrounds for predators." and yet, most children are still at much greater risk from people they know than strangers on the internet -- a risk which can be further minimized by basic safety practices around meeting new people online.

perhaps it makes sense for all minors with MySpace accounts to have private profiles, so only their friends can see their personal info -- but digital technologies tend to make it difficult to ascertain the real age of members. digital media require learning new habits for safety and protection, similar to being cautious with personal financial information. the danger of "predators" on MySpace is continually hyped in the media (even the usually critical blog Broadsheet jumping in), at the expense of the most common forms of abuse experienced by children. perhaps after we insure that all American children have health insurance and are free from violence or abuse at home, we can begin to concern ourselves with digital dangers. until then, though, we have to keep asking why sex offenders seem to capture the legal imagination and divert our attention away from the less sensationalistic violence of the everyday.


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here's a little refreshing back-talk from a recent college grad, giving some badly needed lip to all the recent moralizing over young women's increasingly public sex lives:

Sex-Crazed Co-Eds! - Screening Room

the author, Annsley Chapman, isn't exactly flawless in her logic (young women today are just unashamed of casual sex, and are too busy pursuing the opportunities furnished to them by feminists of yore to focus on establishing more longterm, committed relationships), but it's nice to hear a little dissent from actual college-aged women, over and against the tiresome clamor of older feminist and non-feminists alike (Ariel Levy and Caitlin Flanagan come to mind, and Chapman points to a number of others equally poorly poised to speak for young women).

Chapman's gloss of the current fruits of feminism remains a little thin, though -- i'm not remotely convinced that today's college women are graduating into a world of boundless gender equality and consequence-free casual sex (rates of HPV and HSV are still pretty high last time i looked, a reminder to be attentive to safer sex, not give up on sexual freedom altogether). and she explicitly emphasizes the lives of white, middle-class, straight girls, typically minimizing the visibility of women whose experiences and social positions often place them outside mainstream public debate.

but Chapman is right to call attention to both the tone of recent critics, and their tenuous claims to speak with authority about the lives of young women today. girls and not boys are still being held disproportionately accountable for changing attitudes towards sex, which only reinforces the reality of unequal gender relations that persist in our culture.

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