Tuesday, March 04, 2008

To emphasize or de-emphasize danger?

In a battle of the experts, Dr. Amy Tiemann takes issue with David Pogue's New York Times article How Dangerous is the Internet for Children? His answer: not very. Her answer: there are still risks! Of course, both are right. But I still side with Pogue.

Pogue may have gone overboard by writing "I could not find a single example of a preteen getting abducted and murdered by an Internet predator," because Tiemann rebuts with an example of a 13-year-old who was abducted and killed, balking at the idea of an arbitrary age cutoff. Still going to her tragic example's memory page, one still cannot determine the important factor: Did this young girl willingly go off with this man? Sure, the parents state that they knew their daughter would never go off with a man she didn't know and without telling her family, but, do we really know that was the case? Of course this young girl did not ask to be murdered. She wanted only good to come out of her online friendship. But I hesitate to say that a child will ALWAYS tell their parents EVERYTHING.

A horrible story? Yes. But again, we need to ask: How typical is it? The answer, by investigating news stories and research remains the same -- highly unlikely. As Pogue states "The tales of pedophiles luring children out of their homes are like plane crashes: they happen extremely rarely, but when they do, they make headlines everywhere."

It's the nature of the beast: media cover sensational stories and we respond viscerally to them. But the same way I still plan to get on an airplane tomorrow, so should parents allow their children to explore the internet. Should we use precautions? Heck yes. I fasten my seatbelt, fly on professional airlines, and listen to the safety warnings. Internet users can benefit from similar safety precautions. But let's not prevent the journeys they will take from happening at all.

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