26 March, 2011

Sexual Exploitation Fears and the Internet

Accusations from adults and parents alike are deeming social networking sites “dangerous” (Willard 2008) because teens and kids are all alone ‘out there’ with no adult supervision; why, who knows what will happen! With so many outlets for creative expression rampant and usually run by young adults themselves, order is slowly becoming a distant dream from adults, and they are finally realizing that the internet has no means of control by anybody. One of the most common assumptions by parents is that teens are posting too much information for the world to see; including private information like addresses, names, and even pictures. Some would call this a self exploitation – unknowing teens posting a multitude of information attracting pedophiles and predators. Young girls who innocently post a picture of herself in a bra are then surprised to find a 40 year old man on her doorstop wearing a Childlurker14939 name tag and a bottle of Bourbon. Hysteria ensues when a parent finds a self portrait of her child posing seductively in her bathing suit, or a video of his son having a ‘wicked awesome’ time drinking Russian Vodka through a funnel and puking over neighbour Agatha’s fence into her prized organic petunia garden. Using a case study as a blueprint for this paper, we will be analyzing my own personal use of social networking sites and how the internet can actually be a controlled substance, if one knows how to use it, and not a Brazilian red light district.

The first section of this paper will focus on how the media and adults have created the idea that teens on these sites are questioning their moral upbringing and will ultimately end in death or worse, as a result of being involved in these sites. The fear for these websites is enormous, and it’s assumed that teens might not know how to handle them in a safe way. Susan Herring says that technology shouldn’t be feared and “for fluent young users who know their way around a range of information and communication technologies, [they] can use them simultaneously (multitask), and are able to learn new ones quickly, technology is at their service—they shape (customize) it, rather than it shaping them” (78). Teens, kids, and even young adults own the information age; they fill the internet, develop the software, and they create new and unique ways to express themselves.

First off, social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook are not “dangerous” breeding grounds for seedy perpetrators, who are waiting for na├»ve teens to upload their information so they can look up their address and root through their garbage. Places like MySpace, thrive on the idea that if you upload pictures, people want to look at them – this is not always the case. Just because your emotional daughter got a new side bangs haircut that neatly displays half of one of her raccoon eyes, doesn’t mean that predators are waiting in the bushes of her page licking their lips at the thought of 15 still-frame shots of her looking at the ceiling with an interrogation light in her face.

All the media attention that has been featured lately on social networking sites, privacy and threat issues, and the chance of sexual predators makes it hard to look at these sites as entertainment, and not as a pick up tool. Implications that young girls are posting sexual explicit photos to gather attention because they are deprived of adult interaction may or may not be true, but is certainly played up. My experiences with social networking sites has resulted in seeing a lot of sexual pictures being posted as ‘jokes’ or for fun from other users. Pictures of girls in revealing tops exposing ample boob and thong cleavage, guys making rude gestures and comments on others pages, and even pictures of couples kissing or in provocative situations posted for the world to see. These might be seen as warning signs that too much personal information is being leaked online, and that nobody should even know your full name, never mind your address, home phone number, cell phone number, a jpeg map to your house with your room circled and the times you are home alone written at the bottom.

As hypocritical as it may seem for myself to be saying this, as a social networking site user, people who use these sites are fully aware of what they are doing. The fact that most people screen photos not to include when uploading is proof that we actually examine the information before we post it; it just so happens we are more comfortable with exposing ourselves then our parent’s generation. The hysteria from the media is only half true, and don’t explain the facts fully for people to realize that the internet isn’t a gingerbread house, with their unsuspecting children finding it in a forest. In fact “data showed that one in five youth online had been sexually solicited [… but] a closer look revealed that the majority of these sexual solicitations in 2001 were not from adult predators, but instead came from other youth” (Cassell, Cramer, 56). We grew up with IRC, chat rooms, online games, and various other things that involved us to interact with other people all over the world. The people who choose to meet others whom they’ve met online are aware of what is happening, and are wearier of dangers that could happen. As a result of our upbringing being technologically infused, I can argue we are safer because we know that can happen, and we are aware of the signs. Others, and there are others, who meet people online in unsafe ways and either are unaware or don’t care to plan this meeting safely, are the ones who might have needed more of a parental monitor. If teens are not aware of their surroundings, and do not know how to safely cohabit, interact, and possibly meet others, then they should not be able to do so. Teenagers are constantly told to grow up, but then when they find an outlet for personal growth they are told they are too young to know the implications of such technologies, and the connotations they represent.

Gone are the ways of running across the yard and knocking on a neighbour’s door asking if their child can come out to play – it has been replaced with the instantaneous knock from one IP to another. Teens still need acceptance, reassurance, and attention just like the teens did 50 years ago; they are just in two separate ways. It provides an opportunity for all voices to be heard, and gives the chance of popularity to those who might not otherwise have had it 50 years ago. Nerds and geeks rejoice at the idea of posting their thoughts and personal pictures online to connect with thousands of other’s exactly like them, and not having to worry about bullies or popular jocks stealing their Popsicle stick replica of Mordor out of their desk after show and tell. I admit I have pictures that may be deemed a scandal on my Facebook page, and I will explain why I have them. Embarrassingly I was somewhat bullied in public school; not a lot but enough to make me feel bad about myself for a few years during those awkward pre-teen stages. I was super skinny and hadn’t filled out whatsoever (I'm still waiting), my hair was unmanageable and frizzy, and I had a speech impediment. Since then I have always looked for attention, to tell myself that people are paying attention to me for once. When high school hit and through the years I shed the awkward Amanda and replaced her with the more attractive version, I have always felt inadequate and needed to know I was important. When online customizable sites became popular, everyone hurried on to express their identity. I used bright colours, witty diction, and clever quotations to show people I had emerged from my graceless cocoon and emerged a star in my own right. I used social networking sites to display my assets and to show off what I had become, boyfriends, intelligent literature, and clever sayings to display my personality. It lets geeks and nerds have their opinion seemingly matter to people, to let teens and kids have a place to post news about their day, frustrations, limitations, and of course photos of themselves and friends.

These sites can be argued to have appositive effects as well, like boosting self esteem, or eliminating shyness. As well, teens can get involved and make a difference in their community by posting “links or information about issues, current events, or ways to get involved on their profiles [, where] other youth are more likely to get involved or take action if they find out about something from a friend” (Raynes-Goldie and Walker, 175). Also they can combine their networks through their profiles; “the efficacy of this was demonstrated in 2006, when American youth used their MySpace profiles to organize a countrywide walkout in protest of new immigration laws” (Raynes-Goldie and Walker, 175). The information they have posted that seemed so harmful has actually been used to join others and can be a catalyst for change.

There are so many opinions on social networking sites; it’s hard to keep track of them. Whether the users indulge in the giving of too much information, seem to trusting, or are ignorant to the possibility things might happen to them, or to the overzealous religious zealot who believes that these sites will end up in murder, perversion of moral ethics, or a vessel to have their kids grow further away from them, it is safe to say that social networking sites have their share of judgments As a user of these sites I believe that if teens implement caution, and privacy options to block unwanted attention, the sites can be a great way of expression and discovery. I do not believe teens proposition themselves for attention, but with the way these are set up and the obvious social implications that come with them, social networking sites are indeed a tool for youth to use to explore and create their identity; not to purposely exploit themselves.

*Ed. Note* [Forgot the sources, didn't want you guys to think I was making this shiz up! Added below.]


Cassell, Justine, and Meg Cramer. “High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online." Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. Edited by TaraMcPherson. The John D. and Catherine T.MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 53–76. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262633598.053

Herring, Susan C. “Questioning the Generational Divide: Technological Exoticism and Adult Constructions of Online Youth Identity." Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 71–92. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262524834.071

Raynes-Goldie, Kate, and Luke Walker. “Our Space: Online Civic Engagement Tools for Youth." Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth. Edited by W. Lance Bennett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 161–188. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262524827.161

Willard, Nancy. "MySpace and the Attorney General." Nancy Willard's Web Blog. 14 Jan 2008. 22 Oct 2008 .

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