Countless laws have been proposed to protect kids online. But now a group of Harvard researchers has published a massive study of online dangers to kids, and apparently "other kids" tops the list. The study grew out of an agreement that social networking site MySpace made with the government last year to investigate possible dangers to children using social networks and similar services online. Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society coordinated the research efforts, bringing together scholars and representatives from companies like Yahoo and Google.
After reviewing every scientific study published about children's activity online, as well as consulting with experts from social networks and legislators, the group wrote up their conclusions and published them free online.
Perhaps the most surprising discovery, at least for people expecting the group to uncover horror stories about child molesters and porn trauma, was that children's most upsetting experiences online were usually instigated by other children. The group found that the most bullying and sexual come-ons to young people were extensions of their real-life social networks - kids they knew from school or the neighborhood were treating each other online the same way they've treated each other offline in generations past.
The report concludes that there is no such thing as online safety - only safety. Rules that parents teach kids about not getting into cars with strangers in real life apply online as well. The researchers found that, for example, there was a similar pattern between teens who respond to sexual solicitations from strangers online and teens who respond to similar solicitations on street corners. The troubles these teens face exist in their home lives, say the researchers, and have nothing to do with the kind of media they are using.
The researchers also found that web filtering programs - often dubbed "censorware" - seemed to be an ineffective way of preventing children from seeing upsetting content online.
Check out the report, or read the excellent summary on Ars Technica. Definitely worth a read.
Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies [Harvard's original Berkman Center report]
Biggest online threat to kids is other kids [via Ars Technica]