Kids and internet safety
May 10, 2010 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Looking for examples of things on the Internet that may be hazardous/dangerous/negative/upsetting for children, as well as any pertinent real-world examples.

I'm giving a talk to a group of tech-clueless parents of teenagers/preteens about the Internet and what's on it and what they need to know about what their chilren may be doing. This is driven by my belief that it is no longer cute for tech-clueless adults to joke about "aw, hey, my 7-year-old knows more about that com-pyut-er than I do!" So I'm putting together a 2-hour presentation designed to help people who know nothing about the Internet, quickly get up to speed on the things they need to be aware of.

My list includes all of the major obvious ones - what Facebook is and how kids can use it, IM, acronym codes, craigslist - as well as stuff that the mainstream public is probably less aware of, like 4chan, chatroulette, ED, etc.

So, can you help me think of any other examples of things I should include? Any examples of real stories where kids were hurt/victimized/negatively affected by not enough parental supervision online? Specific stories are great, as well as any venues/sites/etc that I maybe haven't considered.
posted by jbickers to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It seems like brutal rape porn fits in this category.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:30 PM on May 10, 2010

Formspring is apparently the latest venue for cyberbullying.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 2:34 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Or, rather, a general discussion about sexuality on the internet and how preteens will look there for information (and media) when they are curious and some of what they may find will be really toxic and horrifying. But also, that there are good, non-toxic sex ed. sites aimed at internet savvy teens, like and what not.
posted by Kurichina at 2:36 PM on May 10, 2010

teen runaway "met online"

any place where kids can talk to other people, those other people can be lying about who they are and what their intentions are - this includes video games. teaching parents that it's not just "the internet" or the computer but WoW and xbox and playstation and mobile phones could be useful.
posted by nadawi at 2:40 PM on May 10, 2010

What about stuff like pro-ana sites or self-mutilation stuff? I don't know, that might be too vague. There's so much out there that can scare clueless parents that it's hard to know what would be helpful and what will make them just want to yank out the power cord.
posted by alleycat01 at 2:40 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

An 18-year-old girl near my town killed herself because of sexting gone wrong. It's not precisely what you're looking for but it might be a good way to shock the parents into listening.

This sentence in the beginning of the article tells why she felt hopeless about the situation, and lets parents know that anything their kids do on their cell phones and the internet is not local:

Jessica Logan's nude cell-phone photo - meant for her boyfriend's eyes only - was sent to hundreds of teenagers last year in at least seven Greater Cincinnati high schools.
posted by cooker girl at 2:41 PM on May 10, 2010

Shock sites, obviously. The goatse, tubgirl, lemonparty trifecta etc.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:42 PM on May 10, 2010

I don't know if this site is still active, Rotten, but it's definitely not for the kiddies. Any of the death/violence porn sites I would consider bad, and also the kind of thing that just one kid has to know about before half the class, or whatever, are taking peeks.
posted by Max Power at 2:43 PM on May 10, 2010

Response by poster: Pro-ana is exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for - would totally fly under a parent's radar, would be of interest to certain kids, could possibly do a lot of damage.

Also, Kurichina, thanks for the positive focus - I failed to mention that the wrap-up for my talk will be an overview of ways the internet is awesome and can be beautiful/helpful for kids.
posted by jbickers at 2:47 PM on May 10, 2010

Fanfic. Seriously. A lot of younger kids get into writing it (because it's fun) but there is a lot of REALLY dark fanfic out there. I've known of instances where it's roleplaying fic with sexual encounters and suddenly it turns out one or more of the members is underage. It's a hard one too - just having the computer in the living room doesn't cut it. Just having filters doesn't cut it. It needs full on actual conversation and supervision.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:50 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm putting together a 2-hour presentation designed to help people who know nothing about the Internet, quickly get up to speed on the things they need to be aware of.

I teach these sorts of classes and the examples that I use are when everyone's being basically decent and at the same time bad shit happens. So the example people use for facebook is when you may have a kid who is doing everything right safety and whatever-wise and then someone else posts something about them that is privacy violating or whatever [photo, phone number, address, visible photo of house, license plate, whatever]. Not that this is OMG horrible, just that it's worth knowing that even if your kid is 100% perfect, interacting socially can lead to information leaks. This is just how it is but I think it's not at all apparent when people are used to reading web pages and sending email.

Other examples that I use for social software stuff.

- [probably too porny for what you're doing] it's a great site with photos of hot guys not all of whom are probably aware that they're uploading photos with geolocative data on them [so the idea that your phone knows where you are, in short]
- - the idea that triangulating info from one or two sites [foursquare says I'm out, facebook says where I live] can lead to a whole new level of information [again I do not mean this in an oogy boogy way, just in a "many people don't think about this" way]
- once it's out it's irretrievable - I use examples of the day the reviews were briefly de-anonymized, the time that all the private myspace photos were brifly available and then became a tarball that anyone could download, the time AOL made their search data available only to find that it was very very not really deanonymized and then they couldn't get it back because it existed in a zillion places already
- stuff like wikileaks where stuff that is hidden gets surfaced in good and "bad" ways [stuff is disturbing and yet important] but everyone thinks they're wikileaks and they definitely aren't always
- creeps know how to use social software. There was a really ugly example of a girl who was abducted in my town [very unhappy ending] where the creep who took her actually altered her myspace page to make it look like she was somewhere else! So the media were like "teen meets myspace pervert!" when really she'd been taken by her creepy uncle
- I also think about kids who do stunts to achieve YouTube fame and wind up really hurting themselves

I, of course, think the internet is full of wonder and you need to tread carefully when just telling people about all the bad stuff on it, but there are a lot of good sites that I'm sure you've seen about how to talk to yor kid about their online activities, have a computer in a public place and all the rest. Encourage your public library to get sensible intro technology books. Hope it goes well.
posted by jessamyn at 2:51 PM on May 10, 2010 [10 favorites]

I'm 24, and when I was 14, it was pretty funny to send someone in a chatroom or someone you knew on IM a link to... how to put this... really really horrible photos. Kind of like rick-rolling, but instead of a lame music video you got Goatse, tubgirl, lemon party. "Two girls, one cup" would be the equivalent today. All could be read about on wikipedia, but ah... don't google them.

Putting it in non-digital terms, think about that guy who got a VHS of "Red Asphalt" and showed it to unsuspecting people to gross/freak them out. Except it can happen instantly. I also can't immediately think of a way to keep it from happening either, considering these were mostly sent kid-to-kid.

This is pretty much the equivalent of saying "back in my day kids didn't have seatbelts, and I turned out fine!" but, most kids are probably going to realize that what they are seeing is gross, not-normal, and not to be emulated. Keeping communication open with kids, especially about what they see on the internet is important.
posted by fontophilic at 2:59 PM on May 10, 2010

Goatse used to pop up where you least expected it. Rickrolls were even more common trickstery browsing surprises, but thankfully they were clean, harmless fun. I'm convinced that one day something more unseeable than goatse/tubgirl/2girls1cup is going to be EVERYWHERE. This is the kind of thing that you can't avoid by simply staying off certain sites or being careful what you click. I've seen what griefers are capable of, and when I have kids they're not going anywhere near an unsupervised internet until they're old enough to understand the risks and deal with the inevitable shock when it comes. The more socially connected we all become over the web, the easier it will be to throw things in people's faces that they really didn't want to see.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:11 PM on May 10, 2010

Racism and hate websites/commentary, which tends to be casually mixed in with all of the above.
posted by cmcmcm at 3:47 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

In terms of content, I have seen some truly awful depictions of animal cruelty on the Internet that made me reconsider my opinion of the human species, and not for the better.

Regarding sexting and other 'risky' online behaviors: my feeling is that you should stay away from using anecdotal shock stories. There's already enough of that going around on TV news, and if you talk to parents that way, those parents are going to try to talk to their kids that way, and the kids are going to roll their eyes and ignore the ensuing lecture because they know, just from direct experience, that things like that don't happen to the majority of kids who go online, or even who engage in sexting, etc. (FWIW, I think some say-no-to-drugs programs have the same issues; they talk about the 1 in 10,000 case that happens to be Really Sad, but not enough about typical users experiences. Thus it shouldn't be surprising when kids decide to play the numbers. The downside risk, though catastrophic, is remote enough that even a small guaranteed upside makes it a rational choice.)

Instead, try to concentrate on downside risks that might reasonably affect everyone who engages in a particular activity. I'm quite confident that the risk of having private photos passed around to the entire school is much more of a damper on sexting than the threat of abduction by an Internet Pervert -- as it should be, because the risk of the pictures getting spread around probably approaches 100%, while Abduction by Internet Pervert is probably best expressed in percent using scientific notation.

If your goal is to facilitate meaningful conversation between parents and kids, be sure to keep your discussion firmly grounded in actual risks, and don't veer off into dramatic anecdotes. They may play well to parents, but this is a case where pandering to your audience is doing them a disservice: you'd be setting them up poorly for the eventual dialog you want them to have with their kids. Give them real arguments.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:52 PM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

4chan or any of the clones. It's not all tentacle porn and goatse, but it can and does show up in otherwise seeming innocuous parts of these things.
posted by cmoj at 4:07 PM on May 10, 2010

Gurochan. That's one of the 4-chan clones, except that it specializes in "guro" i.e. grotesque or gross pictures. I only lasted about 10 seconds the one time I ever visited there. (I am deliberately not including a link. If you really, really want to see it, use google.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:32 PM on May 10, 2010


I'm not a parent, but I think I'd be much less disturbed if my child was than looking at juvenile grossout images (tubgirl, goatse) or sending pictures to a boy/girlfriend, than if they were hanging around with well-organised fascists.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:33 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just an idea but when I educate people who are non-literate on a particular subject, especially for two hours, I usually use about four topics with three examples each. If you rattle off thirty horrible websites that the people's kids are probably watching (while their parents are in your class no less!), their eyes will glaze over and they will feel powerless/overwhelmed/shut down. Breaking the topic down to bite-sized morsels with a "you can do this to solve the problem" part may be helpful. Just a thought...
posted by MsKim at 6:32 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

A friend of mine is a federal defense attorney and is currently defending a teenager who sent text messages to his girlfriend about blow jobs, etc., later on. She was under the age of consent. He was over it. There were no Romeo and Juliet laws in the state in question. There were "sexy" photos, but nothing nude. He is up on federal kiddie porn charges as well as sex offense charges for soliciting a minor, etc. His life is basically over.

In a similar vein, but just a teenager sharing an inappropriate link (with minors), this.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:02 PM on May 10, 2010

(Oh, on that link, he also did solicit a minor, but even just the criminal sentence for sending the link to minors is BIG.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:03 PM on May 10, 2010

My 3-year-old is is learning to point and click with a mouse. This is very fun on YouTube, which is just chock full of nursery rhymes, silly songs, and familiar characters. But OMG supervision is a MUST! --You'd be amazed at some of the awful things done to Dora the Explorer and other popular cartoon characters. Generally even I can't tell in advance whether they're going to be sawing her head off or singing silly songs. Just because it looks fun & familiar doesn't mean it is when you're on the internet.
posted by Ys at 7:26 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was a little surprised by Wikipedia's sexual content non-censorship policy. There's strong encyclopedic reason, of course, and tremendous academic value, but be aware that if you pull up the "penis" article, for example, the resultant page will include (seemingly homemade) photographs contrasting a man's flaccid penis to another shot of his erect penis. The articles about overtly-sexual topics are also richly illustrated.

I certainly don't mean to pass judgment on age-appropriate sex education or anything of the sort, nor to imply that a photo of reproductive organs in an encyclopedia is the same thing as porn, nor to implying that anything's wrong with being open about these things in the first place. I'm just pointing out that even sites that might be seen as totally kid-safe havens have graphic photos of sex acts if you go looking for them.
posted by fogster at 8:56 PM on May 10, 2010

My friend's daughter was very upset one night, and burst into tears when asked what was wrong. Turns out she had received one of those stupid email forwards which included those standard "if you don't pass this on to X number of people, you will be cursed..." threats. She was so distraught over the consequences of not having forwarded it. Something most adults are used to skimming/skipping can be taken seriously by kids, and those silly forwards are not something a parent would think twice about letting their kid read.
posted by kalanchoe at 9:41 PM on May 10, 2010

I let my 8 year old look for 'pokemon' on youtube one day. He found a video which looked harmless enough, called 'what would happen if pokemon were real.' The premise quickly evolved into the notion that pokemon trainers would be considered dangerously insane, and before I could hit the stop button there was a depiction of a pokemon trainer getting into a battle and being stabbed, complete with fountaining blood. My kid was pretty badly shaken for a few hours even though I told him it wasn't real.
posted by felix at 8:33 AM on May 11, 2010

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