Week 6: Save the Children, Save the World.

Children are being exposed to the Internet, social networks, and various digital media technologies much earlier in their lives than any generation ever before. With this premature exposure to online content comes parental fear and moral panic that author danah boyd* believes to be described as, “when the public comes to believe that a cultural artifact, practice, or population threatens social order.” This content surrounds issues of not only online predators and sexuality, but also of cyberbullying.

According to Parents.com, our children and teens spend up to seven hours per day on electronic devices. “One in six 6- to 9-year-olds and one in five 8- to 9-year-olds have experienced what parents consider objectionable or aggressive behavior online.” Although girls are generally more targeted than boys on these technologies, both genders are subject to be active proponents and receivers of cyberbullying. In light of the serious mental health effects cyberbullying has on our children and teens today, websites and apps are taking precautions to prevent this online abuse in as many ways as possible.

Apps like, Mobicip, limit a child’s time on certain social networks and block adult websites from search results.

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Other apps like, Safe Eyes, enforce strict and filtered search results to limit a child’s accessibility to profane and inappropriate website content.

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One of the most severe, but effective, apps out there is called, SafetyWeb, and actively tracks all activity on social media networks, Internet searches, and even text messages. Although invasive, and potentially unethical, this app provides parents with the relief and overseeing abilities they need to protect their child from harmful online predators and peer cyberbullies.

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The ethics behind these tracking sites is definitely a debatable topic. However, at earlier stages in a child’s development, there should be no reason for children this young to be on social media in elementary school, and potentially be exposed to inappropriate and unsafe content by peers and older acquaintances. Ultimately, this exposure shapes both child and teen behavior, and these apps take the extra step to help prevent any negative influences from becoming a permanent mindset on developing children in our societies today.

*danah boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2014), chapters four and five.

Week Six: Stranger Danger

In danah boyd’s chapter “Are Sexual Predator Lurking Everywhere?” she discusses how many parents either restrict their children’s access to social networking sites or forbid the use of these sites all together due to the fear that “evil men are lurking behind every keyboard, ready to pounce on [their children]” (102). This fear, also known as “stranger danger” began in the 1980s, before the Internet became a fixture in everyday life, and was focused primarily on public spaces as places teen could come into contact with “harmful strangers.” With the introduction of computers and the Internet into people’s home, many parents feared the introduction of a public space that did not have physical boundaries. As boyd mentions, this parental fear of predatory strangers was greatly heightened by the show To Catch A Predator, as well as in the mainstream media that greatly focused on stories of suspected kidnappings and sexual predation of teens by people they met online.

When I was in middle school, I distinctly remember watching To Catch A Predator and feeling intense fear of being kidnapped and raped by someone who would find me online. This fear of stranger danger was made even worse by my mother who constantly ran over to my computer every time she heard me typing to see if I was talking to someone online, even though most of the time I was trying to search for something via Google. I definitely identified with Sabrina when I was in middle school; the girl boyd interviewed who lived in a planned community. Sabrina “was cautious and limited her online activities, [but] she was terrified that something would go wrong” (109). I decided to re-watch some clips of To Catch A Predator, as I haven’t seen the show since 2007, and was shocked by how problematic it now seems to me as an adult, especially considering how this show is emblematic of the moral panic surrounding the Internet at the time of my youth.

Not only was that show ethically questionable, as the tactics they used to catch the “predators” were extremely problematic, but also ignored the fact that the Internet is not increasing the number of cases of sexual predation. According to The Shame Game, by Douglas McCollam and also mentioned by boyd:

Dateline has argued that “Predator” serves a genuine public good, but it could be argued that, in fact, Dateline is doing the public a disservice. When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave a speech about a major initiative to combat the “growing problem” of Internet predators, he cited a statistic that 50,000 such would-be pedophiles were prowling the Net at any given moment and attributed it to Dateline. Jason McLure, a reporter at Legal Times in Washington, D.C., (where I was formerly an editor), asked the show about the number. Dateline told him that it had gotten it from a retired FBI agent who consulted with the show. When the agent was contacted he wasn’t sure where the number had come from, terming it a “Goldilocks” figure — “Not small and not large.” He added that it was the same figure that was used by the media to describe the number of people killed annually by Satanic cults in the 1980s, and before that was cited as the number of children abducted by strangers each year in the 1970s. Dateline has now disowned the number, saying solid statistics about Internet predators are hard to find, but that the problem seems to be getting worse, a sentiment echoed by lawmakers in Congress.

I can say this show personally affected my life and helped perpetuate the culture of fear that seems to becoming increasingly popular. Instead of nuanced approaches to understanding new media and its relationships with teens, mainstream media prefers to scare everyone and ignore real and more pressing problems.

Cyberbullying, or…?

When I first started doing my MA thesis work, my research advisor encouraged me to read more academic literature about abuse, sexual violence, etc. so that I could have a more reliable theoretical framework to refer to by the time I started writing. This is, for the most part, wonderful advice. However, one segment of academic literature she wanted me to look into was cyberbullying, which I found…odd.

On the one hand, it somewhat makes sense: after all, my research focuses on Internet-mediated sexual abuse of underage girls, and most victims of cyberbullying are young and female. However, I was uncomfortable applying the “cyberbullying” label to the events I was studying, since it seemed to trivialize sexual violence as being on the same scale as pigtail-pulling on the playground.

In this week’s reading, danah boyd talks about how categorically labeling an act as “bullying” can make it more difficult for us to later make a distinction between more minor acts of bullying (i.e. annoying but relatively harmless behaviors like teasing) and more extreme acts of aggression. By labeling all acts on this spectrum as bullying, we run the risk of delegitimizing the experience of victims who are enduring more pernicious aggressive behaviors.

However, I can see how this kind of discourse about scales and spectrums when it comes to victimization can be problematic. In analyzing the “severity” of aggressive acts, we risk ignoring the plights of individuals whose experiences outwardly appear minor (e.g. teasing) but is nevertheless doing a significant amount of emotional and psychological damage to the victim. In categorizing one type of abuse as more harmful than another, we obscure the negative experiences of individuals whose victimization we label as “minor. What’s happening here is a kind of psychological triage system, and while triage is perfectly useful (and, arguably, absolutely necessary) in medical situations, it might not be a good model to follow when dealing with issues of abuse and aggression.

Gone Catfishing?

We read in Chapter  4 of Boyd’s Book, that the dangers of the internet present a moral panic for parents, especially parents of adolescent girls.  However, since we have now left our Myspace days behind, our conscienceness of internet lurkers is more educated than before.  Children are taught the need and use of privacy within elementary schools and how to avoid dangerous situations.  But it still seems when it comes to online dating or chatting we still don’t know who we are really talking to?

MTV’s Catfish brought about a conversation that we were all wondering about… Do people actually get doped into relationships with people they don’t even know.  Sometimes it’s our intuition and human nature to trust those who are kind, but sometimes this gratitude may backfire.  In the case of Nev, Catfishs’ host, we learned how he was dooped for 2 years, until he began to really question what the situation was.  This show came out right before the Tinder app, and I think encouraged people to be more cautious about their social media.

The reason it is even called cat fishing is for this particular reason:

“They used to take tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.”

This website highlights the different types of catfish, and the tall tale signs to know if you are being catfished.

http://www.digitaltrends.com/web/its-catfishing-season-how-to-tell-lovers-from-liars-online-and-more/

 

One of these important ways to see if you really talking to who you think you are is through different scammer websites.   This particular link highlights women profiles from around the world who are pretending to be someone they are not. Whether it be a fake picture or name, this site shows the most commonly used photos from this particular dating website and what to watch out for.

http://afroclub.net/scammer-women-profiles.htm

 

Because the internet relies a lot on being anonymous people have the ability to alter or change a part of their life online in order to make themselves look better.  In this case this guy pretends that this girl with the killer tattoo is his girlfriend.  Since it was posted on reddit ( a very popular site) someone who who knew the REAL girl with the tattoo saw it, and showed it to it’s actual owner.  She of course retaliated by sending the internet a public note that she was not in fact his girlfriend and had nothing to do with this guy.  This goes to show that we may be able to pretend to be someone online, but that doesn’t mean that we are going to necessarily get away with it.

http://gawker.com/5642092/what-happens-when-you-pretend-to-have-a-hot-girlfriend-on-the-internet

Hard Candy

In her fourth chapter entitled, “danger”, Boyd challenges the notion of whether sexual predators truly are lurking amongst the “digital streets”, ready to pounce on any opportunity to attack online youth users. Through recollections of interviews with teens and accounts of media panics concerning this moral panic stimulated by social media like MySpace. This chapter truly hits close to home as I came of age during this exact period, when super sites like MySpace was just beginning its short-lived prevalence. I was even surprised to see Boyd’s feature of the one and only Kiki Kannibal, whom I had also avidly followed as a “scene-queen” enthusiast back in middle school, the dark days. What was even more surprising was the dark story Kirsten Ostrenga faced all throughout her MySpace popularity.

Boyd advocates a more empathetic approach to protecting minors from online predators and I could not agree with her more. She even compares this propagated movement of moral panic to the failed “Just Say No” campaign which lumped together all drugs, relaying a “fear-driven abstinence-only message regarding drugs [leaving] no room for meaningful conversation.” (126) This same fear-driven, abstinence-only methodology clearly did not work to the avail of the youth and neither does it work when it comes to online participation. Recollecting my years back in 2006 I certainly do remember this fear of predators and stalkers, founded only on rumors and sensationalized news stories. While reading this chapter I was immediately reminded of a film I watched in maybe seventh or eighth grade, when this moral panic was at its peak. Hard Candy, featuring a young Ellen Page is a thriller about a fourteen-year old vigilante girl who attempts to expose a suspected sexual predator by risking herself as a prey. Watching this film reinforced the fear I had already been subjected to about the Internet. What’s interesting to me however is questioning whether this moral panic has decreased or if I simply grew out of it by the time I turned eighteen.