Internet threat to minors overblown, study suggests

Tue Jan 13, 2009 8:25pm EST
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Worries that the Internet and social networking services like MySpace pose a threat to child safety may be overblown, a report by industry, academics and technology experts suggests.

The report, which will be released on Wednesday, suggests that the biggest threats to children's safety online may come from other children, and that their own behavior could contribute to the trouble they encounter.

"Minors are not equally at risk online," the report said. "Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives."

It is the product of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, created last February by 49 state attorneys general to address what many of them said was the growing problem of sexual predators soliciting children online.

"The risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline, and ... as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems," the study said.

The Task Force includes executives from social networking services like Facebook and News Corp's MySpace, as well as other technology and media companies including Yahoo Inc, Verizon and Time Warner Inc's AOL.

The findings, if accepted by the law enforcement community, would be important for Facebook and MySpace. Both social networking sites have large numbers of younger members, and parents have expressed concern over strangers approaching their children on those sites.

Both have signed agreements with the attorneys general to increase their efforts to protect their youngest members from sexual predators.   Continued...

<p>Students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School work on their laptops during a class in Dorchester, Massachusetts June 20, 2008. REUTERS/Adam Hunger</p>