Oh, give me a break!

So now there’s an article in The New York Times about Facebook.com being the new haven for “sexual predators” (there’s a weasel word if ever there was one!). From the article:

Facebook, the online social network, has stolen some of MySpace’s
momentum with users and the news media. Now, it is being subjected to
the same accusations that it does not do enough to keep sexual
predators off its site.

Richard Blumenthal,
Connecticut’s attorney general, said that investigators in his state
were looking into “three or more” cases of convicted sex offenders who
had registered on Facebook and had “also found inappropriate images and
content” on the service. The inquiry continues, he said, and state
officials have contacted Facebook and asked it to remove the profiles.

is no question that Facebook is encountering some of the same problems
that MySpace has posed,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “They should be held
accountable, and we intend to do so.”

Folks, these dangerous criminals hang around churches, schools, parks, lots of places. We don’t hold those places accountable for the actions of others; why is cyberspace any different? No, this is just more excuse-mongering to fan the flames of fear in order to regulate the internet. Facebook does everything possible to make sure adults just can’t automatically talk to youngsters. But what is the source of this fear? Read it for yourself (emphases mine):

But in some cases, Facebook’s younger users are vulnerable to sexual
solicitations from older users, as was demonstrated last week to The New York Times
by an anonymous person who described himself or herself in an e-mail
message as “a concerned parent.” The evidence of this person’s
activities on Facebook may give state investigators further cause for

In early July, this person opened a fake account on the
site, posing as a 15-year-old girl
named Jerri Gelson from North
Carolina. The photograph on the fake profile page is of an under-age
girl whose hair conceals her face. On the profile page, Ms. Gelson —
whom the “concerned parent” said was not a real person — is described
as looking for “random play” and “whatever I can get.”

person then signed up for three dozen sexually themed groups–forums
of users organized around a particular topic.

Yes, that’s right. This person didn’t make the fake account and then passively start getting sexual advances–he went looking for it! It’s the same thing that TheRegister.com and others have found whenever they’ve tried the same thing. They get nothing, until they go to sexually-explicit groups or chat rooms. And then they get sexual advances! Gee, who’da thought?

No one’s blaming the victims here, but geez, is it really that hard for parents to monitor their childrens’ internet activities and teach them to avoid the dangerous places, just like they have to do in the real world?

Nooooo, that would mean they would actually have to be responsible. Far better to let the government run a scare of everyone, be lazy enough to want the government to do their jobs for them, and have them coming in on a white horse to save us from these evil internet predators. Bye-bye, the one and only bastion of free speech left to us by the power-hungry fear mongers. Hey, after all, it’s for the good of the children.

Well, everything but their (and everyone else’s) liberty, that is.

6 thoughts on “Oh, give me a break!

  1. It’s really very easy to avoid crazies on the internet: don’t meet up with them. I knew that pretty well back when I first started using message boards and such at, what, 9 years old?

    I can’t really understand how anyone–teen or not–can’t understand that. I’m not going to blame the victim either, but even, say, 15 year olds should be smart enough to know that not to meet with strangers over the internet. I don’t think being a minor is really an excuse for being stupid, at some point it’s up to the responsibility of the person to not put themselves in risky situations. You certainly can’t blame the websites, and often the parents when the teen themselves simply did something stupid.

    Often these sensationalist news articles have the very faint implication that the teenagers are innocent, “at risk”, etc, when they really should know better not to do anything as stupid as meet up with people they don’t know at all.

    Instead of doing what the NYT wants and putting restrictions on websites that at some level compete with their own service, the real solution is simple: educate teens. And if the teenager isn’t smart enough to get it through his or her head, so be it: appealing to the absolute lowest common denominator has gotten us into enough messes already, at some point a person has to realize that risky actions have risky consequences.

    I really don’t see why it’s so difficult to understand that meeting up with people on the internet, at least when you’re younger, is a bad idea.

    The idea that the state needs to protect the lowest common denominator only gives us more of the lowest common denominator. The state is the greatest protector and promoter of stupid.

    Of course, the second greatest promoter of stupid is the media, as this article helps show. What’s next, Ford not doing enough to ensure people buckle in their seat belts?

    • Meeting someone from online as an adult is risky, too. It should always be done in an open public area with lots of people around.

      As for the rest of what you said, yes, they should know better, but there are a lot of very manipulative people out there. A good cold reader can end up getting all sorts of personal information from you and know where to find you, for example.

      But all the evidence shows, if you just ignore the more seedy areas of the internet, you should be fine, just like there are streets in every city you shouldn’t walk down.

  2. The vast majority of cases that involve rape or such where the people met online were from meeting each other, not one person sneaking into another’s house.

    And, of course, such incidents themselves are rare. This is mostly a non-issue and really can only be fixed by either being smarter than your average bear or having parents keep a heavy eye on you if you’re clearly not the most intelligent kid on the block.

    The fact that they’re railing against facebook, which is so-locked down and sterile compared to myspace, shows how desperate they are to either have sensationalist news and/or to try to damage future and current competition from such online sites.

    I’m afraid that we’re losing this battle. The NYT knows damn well that the average person will read what they put out, be concerned despite not really understanding the issue, and accept whatever implicit conclusion the story holds. It’s worked in the past and it’ll work now–and even if the public doesn’t accept it now, they will a few years after it becomes law anyway.

  3. And I’ve heard over 90% of last year’s rapists wore shoes. Let’s ban shoes, or at least start tracking people who buy them!!

    Ray Ubinger
    Durham NC

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