Social Networks Safer Than Perceived

    April 11, 2007

Social networking sites are becoming a political lightning rod for politicians and law enforcement. As more children use the sites the belief is that they are at increased risk to be targeted by online predators.

Amidst the saber rattling by politicians two studies find that social networking sites are safer than is commonly believed. The Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire found that unwanted online solicitations have decreased from 19 percent in 1999 to 13 percent currently.

Out of the unwanted solicitations that were received, 43 percent were initiated by other minors, not from adults.

Another study of MySpace by Dr. Larry D. Rosen at Cal State revealed that only 7 percent of teens that were interviewed had encountered an unwanted solicitation on MySpace. The majority ignored the person and blocked them from their page.

The U.S. House and Senate is considering The Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) which would cut funding to public schools and libraries if they did not block access to social networking sites.

If DOPA passes its reach has the potential to go beyond restricting access to social networking sites and could include IM, blogs, discussion forums and other sites.

Adam Thierer, from the Progress and Freedom Foundation believes that blocking all social networking sites is not a wise move because under the current definition sites such as Wikipedia, CBS Sportsline and Flickr would be subject to blocks.

Thierer suggests that the answer is not stricter controls, but to use the tools that are already in place in the offline world to protect children such as education, law enforcement and adult supervision.