The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University today released the final report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, a group of 29 leading Internet businesses, non-profit organizations, academics, and technology companies that joined together for a year-long investigation of tools and technologies to create a safer environment on the Internet for youth.
The Task Force was created in February 2008 in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced in January 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace. The report was delivered to the 52 Attorneys General in December, 2008.
The reports conclusions form the executive summary are:
– Sexual predation on minors by adults, both online and offline, remains a concern. Sexual predation in all its forms, including when it involves statutory rape, is an abhorrent crime. Much of the research based on law-enforcement cases involving Internet-related child exploitation predated the rise of social networks. This research found that cases typically involved post-pubescent youth who were aware that they were meeting an adult male for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity. The Task Force notes that more research specifically needs to be done concerning the activities of sex offenders in social network sites and other online environments, and encourages law enforcement to work with researchers to make more data available for this purpose. Youth report sexual solicitation of minors by minors more frequently, but these incidents, too, are understudied, underreported to law enforcement, and not part of most conversations about online safety.
– Bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline.
– The Internet increases the availability of harmful, problematic and illegal content, but does not always increase minors’ exposure. Unwanted exposure to pornography does occur online, but those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out, such as older male minors. Most research focuses on adult pornography and violent content, but there are also concerns about other content, including child pornography and the violent, pornographic, and other problematic content that youth themselves generate.
– The risk profile for the use of different genres of social media depends on the type of risk, common uses by minors, and the psychosocial makeup of minors who use them. Social network sites are not the most common space for solicitation and unwanted exposure to problematic content, but are frequently used in peer-to-peer harassment, most likely because they are broadly adopted by minors and are used primarily to reinforce pre-existing social relations.
-Minors are not equally at risk online. Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives. The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.
– Although much is known about these issues, many areas still require further research. For example, too little is known about the interplay among risks and the role that minors themselves play in contributing to unsafe environments.
Report download site: Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies
New York Times article reporting some of the Attorneys General reactions: Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown