How to report offensive people
April 22, 2005 11:21 AM   Subscribe

I have an 11 year old son who is active in a couple of Yu-Gi-Oh message boards. There are a group of people who frequent these places and post inappropriate web links on occasion. One time, someone posted a porn site disguised as a harmless link. Doing that seems like there is a some kind of law being broken yet I did not know where to turn to report it (yeah, like going to the city police will really help...pppthhh). Another time, someone posted this link (this just can't be legal): My kid was very upset about the bonzai kitty thing and the porn. I want to be able to do something about this but do not know what, where, how. I am wondering if there is an online mechanism to turn to. These Yu-Gi-Oh sites are otherwise great for my kid and I do not want to restrict his access just because of a few perv's and/or freaks.
posted by SparkyPine to Law & Government (27 answers total)
Sorry I can't offer a real answer to the question, but it may comfort you to know that the bonsai kitten thing is a well-established fake. No kitties were harmed.
posted by lackutrol at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2005

i don't have an answer to your question, but for what it's worth, bonsai kitten is an urban legend. perhaps you could read this with your child to allay their distress.

upon preview -- snap!
posted by heather at 11:28 AM on April 22, 2005

Let me be the first to point out: Bonsai Kitten is a joke site. It is fake. There is no sick group stuffing kittens in jars to make square cats.

It's tasteless, and you will find a lot of that on the Internet, but it's not real. This hoax and others are discussed on snopes. ( which should be one of your first stops whenever you or your child spot something "outrageous" on the web.
posted by Crosius at 11:29 AM on April 22, 2005

SparkyPine - I hate to be blunt, but welcome to the internet. The best thing you can do is monitor your son's usage. I found all sorts of things on BBS systems when I was near that age, the internet just makes it easier. You can't stop it.
posted by bh at 11:29 AM on April 22, 2005

The first step to take would be to contact the owners and moderators of the message boards with specific examples of inappropriate behavior. If there are no moderators, I would recommend finding a moderated message board for your son.

Unfortunately (and IANAL), I doubt there's a law against posting inappropriate links on a privately-owned message board, so any enforcement is going to have to come from the owners.
posted by muddgirl at 11:33 AM on April 22, 2005

You can't stop it.

There are a lot of moderated forums out there. This means that there are people (forum administrators) who can stop it, either by editing posts or by banning users who engage in inapproproate behavior. I'd imagine posting pornography in a forum frequented by 11-yr olds counts as inappropriate behavior.
posted by vacapinta at 11:34 AM on April 22, 2005

You could tell him not to click on any link that leaves whatever board site he's on. He won't always do that. But it might work and he'd still be able to get a lot out of the message boards. You could try filtering software if you feel strong enough about keeping your son from seeing such content. It'd surely stop some of it; it'd surely let some of it through; and it'd surely stop sites you'd be ok with.

You could try to teach him some internet skills at avoiding links that go to places you don't want him to go to.

On preview, contacting the site is a good idea. If the site requires registeration, it might cancel the given user or it might try IP blocking. It won't/can't stop it all together, but it might make it happen less often.
posted by skynxnex at 11:36 AM on April 22, 2005

Any parent who would leave his or her child alone with the internet is out of his or her mind. This is no place for children.
posted by Faze at 11:49 AM on April 22, 2005

I think the most effective thing you could do would be to keep an open dialog with your child. It seems like you've already got a great relationship going, as he's notified you of these links that have offended and confused him. As others have mentioned, suggest that he reads into the actual URL's a little more carefully and avoids getting duped once again. I wouldn't be concerned with punishing the people that make these inappropriate posts, as it will be extremely vexing and pointless. I'd also frown upon filtering software as it's not a concrete solution and at best simply masks the issue. If anything, contact the administrators of the forums and suggest they be a little more stringent in their moderation duties.
posted by prostyle at 11:52 AM on April 22, 2005

there's a dolphin you can download and have swimming in the corner of the screen. if the child sees anything nasty they click on the dolphin and the screen is covered up.
[pokes around]
hmmm. microsoft?!
it's not a complete solution, but with that, filtering and supervision i hope you can find a suitable compromise.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:58 AM on April 22, 2005

My hat's off to your son. He saw something that made him uncomfortable, he acknowledged that it bothered him, and he came to you to talk about it. That's awesome. When I was his age, I'd have tried to act all cool and unflappable and then squirmed and had nightmares in private.

If he's genuinely upset about seeing mutilated cats and porn, then teach him how to avoid seeing them — look at where a link leads before he clicks it, turn off image auto-loading if he's going to a site he's not sure about, etc. Teach him to use Snopes himself to verify weird stories. Find out if the site's moderated, and teach him how to deal with the moderators in a mature and respectful way. There's a lot of lessons in online citizenship here, and you may as well take the opportunity to teach him some of them.

If you're upset about it... well, I'm not sure what to say to that. Take courage from the fact that he did have such a mature response. Accept that he's gonna get curious about that stuff — the porn especially — sooner or later. Try to keep a level head about it, so that hopefully he can go on talking to you when he sees upsetting things in the future. Alas, in the long run he will see stuff that bothers him and stuff that bothers you — that's not just the internet, that's life.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:00 PM on April 22, 2005

find a moderated forum. and Faze, if a bit harsh, has a point -- unsupervised Internet for children is a no-no. you should at the very least block it with the appropriate software (blissfully childless, I do not know any software names, but there are plenty out there, just Google them up)

oh, and the bonsai cat thing is bullshit, an urban legend as noted above. tell him.
posted by matteo at 12:02 PM on April 22, 2005

It frustrates me when parents want to hide the world from their children, and even moreso when the parents want to make everything "safe" for their children by trying (in a largely futile attempt) to shape the world around their beliefs.

Imagine yourself as a child--do you really want things hidden from you? Sure, a lot of stuff is shocking when you first see it, and it's good to have someone to discuss things with, but really, the sooner you come to grips with--and are able to handle--the world you live in, the better. Street smarts aren't taught in school, and 11-year-olds are a lot more mature than many people think.

He doesn't want to look at stupid links? Great, hit the back button. But he's going to have to deal with the concepts of porn and bonsai kitties sooner or later.
posted by trevyn at 12:05 PM on April 22, 2005

Gee, I bet I can spot a couple of people in this thead who don't have kids. I too was a much better parent before I had a child.

It's been said before. At 11 he's old enough to learn to check the URL in the status bar. Also, if he really was disturbed in the past, he might be willing to check with you before he clicks on a link.

There is filtering software out there but I haven't used it. By the time he's 14 he'll probably know how to get around it anyway.
posted by bondcliff at 12:19 PM on April 22, 2005

yeah, but that'll at least buy SparkyPine 3 years
posted by matteo at 12:20 PM on April 22, 2005

Ah yes. Nothing like Mefi moralizing. Here is the question:
"I am wondering if there is an online mechanism to turn to."

Try some of the traditional filtering software:
posted by jeremias at 12:25 PM on April 22, 2005

I suppose you could do whatever is necessary to help speed the creation of the .kids TLD and restrict your children to that. Beyond that, well, the internet is rather unrestricted and to be honest that's how I, and many others, like it.

More immediate and practical solutions are filtering software as jeremias pointed out or finding moderated message board|communities. However, neither of these solutions are perfect. In the first case, well, filters suck but usually this is so when using technology to fix a human behavior problem. Moderated spaces are better but there is always the question of degrees. What you find objectionable may not be to the moderators.

I suppose given bondcliff's comments my opinion will be discounted as I'm childless. Though to be honest, I'm not sure I'd let my kids on the internet, if I had any.
posted by cm at 12:42 PM on April 22, 2005

I hate to sound so negative, but in the next three or four years, a friend of his is going to show him a playboy/penthouse/hustler that his older brother found somewhere. It's going to happen, there isn't anything you can do about it. Yeah, it doesn't help that kids as young as your's can find it on the internet already at their age but that is the way it is. If you want this to stop happening (at least on the internet) you'll need to install NetNanny or something like it. Really, that's all you can do. Anything less will be a bandaid.
posted by pwb503 at 12:57 PM on April 22, 2005

Norton Internet Security 2005 has a Parental Control feature.
It is not enabled since no children have access to this computer, so i can't give an evaluation.
OTOH, in the current situation your son looked to you for guidance.
As has been noted above, you cannot prevent inappropriate material from reaching your child. Having the opportunity to "hold his hand" as he reaches the wider world might be golden.
posted by Cranberry at 1:06 PM on April 22, 2005

Considering how adult your child is for being forthright with you about this, I (in the child's place) would take it as some sort of odd punishment that you would install a filtering software on the computer. It's as if you're saying "If I know you're doing this I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen", which, while logical, presents the child with a choice you probably don't want him to make: Continue to inform you and be presented with ever increasing tighter controls, or keep his mouth shut and hope you don't find out.

Stick with him telling you about these things, IMHO. Help him avoid bad links. Help him write a cogent letter to the administrator of the site asking them to put stricter controls and moderation in place so that this doesn't happen anymore.

Your son will learn the value and method of complaining to the right people the right way about something without trampling on other people's rights. It's a win/win situation.

If you have your heart set on filtering software, why don't you make it *his* choice if he wants to use it or not? Then it's no longer a punishment -- it's a tool he can use.

But that's just from me. I don't have kids so what do I know?
posted by shepd at 1:56 PM on April 22, 2005

Realize too that quite often the people posting inappropriate links are other kids.

My son has been on the Internet since he was 4. We've had no problems.
posted by mischief at 1:57 PM on April 22, 2005

Thank you to those who really understand the situation. I am not interested in fixing Al Gore's internet. My concern is the implicit pedophilia related issues that are present when someone pushes porn in front of an 11 y/o kid on the internet...or is that supposed to be ok "because it's the internet"? Maybe I'll ask M. Jackson.

Glad to hear about the Bonzai kitty thing being a joke...that was a little rough even for me to digest.
posted by SparkyPine at 2:00 PM on April 22, 2005

My concern is the implicit pedophilia related issues that are present when someone pushes porn in front of an 11 y/o kid on the internet...or is that supposed to be ok "because it's the internet"?

Well, to be fair, there are other people using the web, even on dumb places like Yu-Gi-Oh message boards. I'm not going to watch my language because somehow, somewhere, a kid might be reading. Angry modem isn't going to stop posting malicious links because a kid might click on them. Reducing us all to the level of a 11 year-old is fruitless and impossible, and I'm insulted that you think it's a good idea. If the message board owner or operator is unconcerned with the actions of its members, there is little you can do other than a) ask nicely for him to change his policies or b) leave.

The only person responsible for overseeing what your child accesses is you. I like shepd's answer because it is fair and kind, but if you feel the need to close the barn door now, then go ahead.

The fact that your kid told about this is heartening; clearly you've done a fine job raising him. Don't freak out over this.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:49 PM on April 22, 2005

Considering how adult your child is for being forthright with you about this, I (in the child's place) would take it as some sort of odd punishment that you would install a filtering software on the computer.

Not at all; it's all in how you position it. If the child was disturbed by seeing certain Web sites, then you simply tell them that you have installed software that will keep them from seeing disturbing Web sites. Tell them that it's not perfect and might sometimes block things that are fine, and if it ever happens to them to come get you and you will look at the link and unblock it for them. (Depending on how much you trust the child you may even give them the override password and say, "only use this if you're sure you want to see it, but don't say you weren't warned.") The whole thing can be seen as a sort of advance warning system for the child himself to take advantage of, if you want to position it that way.
posted by kindall at 3:33 PM on April 22, 2005

It is a site about Yu-gi-oh, a show geared toward children. Some decorum is usual among children's-show forums. Like vacapinta said, the site probably has posting guidelines and real people monitoring discussion.

Here's a list of Internet filters with descriptions. You may want to examine filters to make sure your son can access as much inoffensive material as possible. Sites like Bonsai Kitten might only be blocked by the most restrictive filters. Also make sure you can switch off the filter easily in case you run into false positives.

Though he'll want to expand his horizons eventually, it's perfectly decent of you to help your son avoid content that disturbs him. No one is obliged to show their kids pornography, and no one is obliged to watch it. It's cool that he trusts you and confides in you, and that's a relationship you don't want to waste.
posted by NickDouglas at 4:28 PM on April 22, 2005

I've been moderating a set of forums with a large membership in their teen years for several years now. There are quite a few adults who post there, but most people are between 12 and 16. Usually, but not always, we catch porn links and other undesirable material quickly.

Leaving Bonsai Kitten aside, a forum geared towards kids (like much of our forums are) will have a set of guidelines about posting pornography as well as other behaviour. Since it seems like there was only one incident, I would wager that it just wasn't caught quickly. Moderators don't see everything.

Internet citizenship mentioned above is a good starting point. Definitely look around the sites he likes, find out how to contact the moderators or administrators and teach him how to contact them and what to write. Read the forum guidelines.

A lot of forum software has a feature where you can simply click a link around a post (like the MetaFilter flagging system) and report that post to the moderators. Alternately, moderators often have an email address listed or there is a way to message them using the board software.

Remember, while most administrators are intrinsically connected to their forums (they own the company or work for it) the moderators usually are not employed by the company hosting the site.

For instance, I'm just a guy who hung around a lot and was in the right place at the right time. I'm not paid by or affiliated with the company in any capacity other than my account has certain extra privileges and I see the gang at the odd convention I choose to attend.

If you want to get to the people who own and operate the site, if you can't get in touch with the moderators or they are rude to you, contact an administrator. However, most moderators on friendly forums will be willing to listen. Unfriendly forums exist in quite large numbers, though.

Hell, the president of the company that owns our forums has received phone calls from moms for various reasons and in one case called up the mother of a self-admitted software pirate and politely explained the situation to her. You're not always going to get that level of service, but you might.

Now, as per the software solution, many nice programs have been suggested. I would tell your very mature child that this software is available and ask him if he would like to use it. Give him some sensible non-software alternatives, like telling you when he sees something he doesn't like or having you surf with him. He'll choose appropriately, I'm sure.

Also, I agree with several of the other posters in that you can't stop all or even a lot of this on the interconnected network and curiosity gets the best of us.

You don't seem too concerned with the material itself, more with the fact that it upset your son. As a mid-twenties adult son of a mother like you, I say very happily, thanks. Just make sure that you explain to him that much like a grisly auto accident, there are sometimes things you may see that you don't want to see.
posted by Captaintripps at 5:38 PM on April 22, 2005

You done good with this kid. Before I took on the role of SuperStepFather, my wife raised her son (who is now also 11) with similar communication and support. It has not failed - this kid is far more trustworthy and mature than I was at the same age.

Tripps and shepd have it right, I think. You've got trust and respect established. I'd use that. Give him the option. And level with him.

You know what to do already. Kudos to you and your son.
posted by TeamBilly at 6:35 AM on April 23, 2005

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