Sunday, 21 January 2007

Children's Internet safety is also a parents' responsibility

Sunday Editorial

A big uproar has been recently raised within the entire Web community when last Wednesday the law firms, Barry & Loewy LLP of Austin, Texas, and Arnold & Itkin LLP of Houston, representing four families from New York State, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have filed in Los Angeles Superior Court four separate suits against News Corp. and MySpace social-networking site alleging negligence, recklessness, fraud and negligent misrepresentation by the companies after their teen-daughters were sexually abused by adults they met on the site. Namely they refer to a 15-year-old girl from Texas who was drugged and assaulted in 2006 by an adult MySpace user; a 15-year-old girl from Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old from upstate New York and two South Carolina sisters, ages 14 and 15.

"In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users…Hopefully these lawsuits can spur MySpace into action and prevent this from happening to another child somewhere… The families are seeking monetary damages in the millions of dollars" said Jason A. Itkin, an Arnold & Itkin lawyer.

By chance last Sunday I wrote my editorial on PEW Survey results on social networking and the diffusion of MySpace usage among teenagers, and under this new circumstance I am back on the subject.
MySpace is a web based social network where mostly – but not exclusively - young visitors can keep in touch and augment their entourage of friends using several free communication and sharing tools and personal profile pages. Profile settings and safety are declared of capital importance for MySpace:
“MySpace serves as an industry leader on Internet safety and we take proactive measures to protect our members e provide users with a range of tools to enable a safer online experience" said Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security office

Consequent to this lawsuit it occurs to me, we should wonder why the parents believe that a web business company – in addition to envisage some preset control procedures - should be controlling what their children are doing, whereas this is institutionally their main responsibility. And I wonder if this is just an occasion for these families, advised by some aggressive law firms, to get some easy money out of a successful business.

On a wider perspective - that interests me the most - I believe that Internet safety is a major issue as the world wide web has become a literally another virtual world and a sort of parallel reality. I am sure that both parents and children are well aware of this, since the use of PC and of some net tools has nowadays become something as common as a TV remote control, a microwave or a VCR. Moreover I have reason to believe that at least one of the two teenager’s parents is in his mid-40s (if not younger) and much likely an Internet user (if not even an expert), and therefore he/she or both parents ought to know what net-surfing experience is all about. On the other hand it may sound like a common place but kids nowadays are very smart.
The core of the matter instead relies on the following main considerations:
  • the huge amount of users enhances the probability of misuse (law of big numbers)
  • these online stalkers are really shrewd in taking advantage of weaknesses and occasions
  • many teenagers are more lonesome than even themselves may believe
  • many parents have no idea what their children do, dream, hope…
Now as to the first and second considerations, these questions must be solved by the combination of legal, technical and educational actions that should try to ensure a safer environment where the children can meet friends undisturbed.
Nonetheless I am keener on the social issue that emerges, the loneliness of teenagers and the lack of communication between children and parents. Clearly I am fully aware that the latter is something that has always been and will always be: confrontation between generations is a leitmotiv of human progress, civilisation and growth. However I deem that the Internet and the use of all these new technologies/electronics in general could be a good point of contact between parents and children, who might have more to share and talk about instead of just school scores and plans for future college admission…
I tend to believe instead that parents have no – or worse, find no– time for their children to share their actual interests and aims, and too often confine their conversations to just uninterested, formal and immaterial matters, thus encouraging their children to smoothly drift away and seek elsewhere comprehension or at least consideration.
While personally I believe that technically there is no solution, since any barrier, checkpoint, control can be overridden by insincere profile settings and deceitful net- behaviours from both sides i.e. children/user and predator/user.

The real key is a wider and deeper education on the subject and its implications and especially more parent-children true communication.

Guy Mc Paul

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1 comment:

Yvon said...

After reading your article, Iarrive at the same conclusion as you:

…“No one can shield their children forever”. But what you can do is help them to interpret and properly deal with what they have seen, heard and done…

I strongly believe that Internet is the ‘’today’’ part of new technologies and like any powerful tool of nature, has to be managed and accessed properly to get real benefits out of it. And, only a combination of educational-guide tool and parental involvement is still the most effective way to keep our kids safe online…

As in the real world, parents set limits on where children can play depending on their age and maturity, keeping toddlers in the back yard, for instance, while letting teenagers roam…

That’s why we created AxylomClass ® a 2nd generation of Internet parent control software based on an innovative approach without exploiting standard technological filter, spying methods or censure approaches but with a Trust mode of navigation to develop a real parent-child communication.

AxylomClass ® lend a hand as parent to develop and to sustain self-governance, ethical and critical attitudes from yours children electronically connected to the world with a solid control on Internet clutter by creating your private Internet (Virtual Library).

Finally, to give them a reason to push aside all of that clutter and focus on reaching their true potential at home, in school and beyond