Moral Panic, Flickr SexFan

Source: Alec Couros blog entry linked below

The Internet may not be such a dangerous place for children after all. A high-profile task force created by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem.

But the report cited research calling such fears a “moral panic,” and concluded that the problem of child-on-child bullying, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults.
Source: New York Times, Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblow
Contrast this report with Alec Couros' story (Flickr Perversion). An excerpt from his blog post (read it entirely):
...there were four pages of girls favorited by this user. The girls were a bit older, but in the majority of the photos, the subjects were handcuffed, often in sexually provocative poses. Again, my daughter’s photos appeared. I blocked the user, contacted Flickr. Same deal. But obviously, that’s not enough.
With these events in mind, how would you respond to the questions Alec poses (no pun intended)?

Here's my five minute race (all the time I have to compose) through the questions:

1) What must parents know about the realities of the Internet in regards to how we deal with the photos (and identities) of our children?
  • Photos should be shared only with family and close friends, where "friends" is defined as people you actually know and may appear in certain photos with family. Of course, even some family is not "trust-able" and you should keep that in mind.
  • Pictures of children in nude, semi-nude, inappropriate dress that protects their modesty should NOT appear in public. This does not mean you can't store pictures online in Flickr or PicasaWeb (which I prefer) but that you should protect access.
  • Only share photos and identities of children who are old enough to protect themselves. I think young adult qualifies here. These photos should NEVER be provocative because this not only exposes them to sexual predators but also may impact future job opportunities.
2) What are the benefits of an open vs. a closed reality? Are the benefits of openness (e.g., in regards to our families) worth the risks? And, what are the credible risks?
  • Openness and transparency are choices ADULTS make about their own behavior, not children. Adults must accept consequences for transparency and openness but children should not be forced to accept the consequences without prior preparation.
  • Have conversations with your children about what it means to be open and transparent but realize that there are some situations where openness and transparency CAN be used against you, and you can be hurt. Are the consequences--not only your hurt but also the being deprived of the benefits of openness--worth the unknown risk?
  • Every day we balance the unknown against the risks we know. We must ensure clear communication about how to focus on the benefits of openness and transparency, discuss the risks, and develop strategies for problem-solving the unknown...for example, rather than having an Internet expert dictate what steps you should take to protect your child, what steps would we develop together with our children? With other parents of children our kids associate with?

3) What precautions should we take, or perhaps, what precautions do you take in the presentation/development of your family’s digital identity?
  • As a parent, my family's digital identity is limited to photos, videos that I have "absolute" control over as provided to me by Flickr and PicasaWeb controls. It doesn't means we are invulnerable but that we've done what's reasonable to protect against vulnerability without sacrificing the benefits of being vulnerable (e.g. sharing photos with family and close friends).
  • Ensure that your children understand what precautions need to be taken in different social media environments.

Time's up. How would you respond to the full list of questions?

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