In an era with laws being proposed left and right to protect children from the dangers of the computer age, a Harvard study has shown that the biggest dangers faced by children on the Internet actually come from … well, other kids.
Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society coordinated the study, born from an agreement made between the government and Myspace to identify and investigate potential threats to children on social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook. After thoroughly reviewing previous studies, bringing together experts in the field, and all that other research-y business, the center published the findings online.
In what might come as a shock to Protect-The-Children groups and associations, the study concluded that the most traumatizing moments suffered by children online were not horror stories about stumbling across pornography or wandering into the wrong sort of chatroom … but came at the hands of other children. As the Digital Age further blurs lines between reality and the internet, problematic incidents on social networking sites tend to come out of problematic relationships in real-world social networks.
In the end, the study concluded that there was no such thing as “online safety” – only plain old “safety.” Teaching children not to accept candy from strangers face-to-face means that they’re far less likely to do it when the candy is virtual, and the type of person who would respond positively to an online sexual advance would have a much higher probability of doing the same to one made in the real world. Furthermore, web-filtering “censorware” tended to be ineffective, and was unlikely to prevent children from accessing upsetting or objectionable online content
Even cyber-bullying naturally has its roots in reality – kids have a proud, long-standing tradition of being absolutely horrible to other kids, whether on the playground or on Facebook.
One wonders if this might affect parents’ attitudes towards online gaming (or, indeed, if they’ll take any notice of it at all). Of course, playing a round of Smash Bros. at home with friends isn’t exactly the same thing as interacting with schoolmates online, so maybe the study’s conclusion doesn’t really have all that much impact on gaming at all.