In doing more thinking about the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), now kicking around in Congress, I have to believe its creation was inevitable.
Think of all the high-profile reports over the past year about kids and social networking sites. (Like this recent little gem.)
Add to that the constant stream of stories about predators stalking kids online. (NBC’s Dateline alone must have done at least five this season.)
The only conclusion a sane person (or a politician) could possibly come to is that there is a crisis which must which requires immediate and decisive action.
However, as Andy points out, there may be far more noise than substance in these reports.
Last week on the science news website LiveScience, author Benjamin Radford offered a provocative commentary on the recent spate of news stories regarding sexual predators, including those on the Internet. He claims the media exaggerates and sensationalizes the threat of online predators, offering government crime statistics to make his argument. Is all of this news coverage, he asks, much ado about nothing?
In his essay, Predator Panic, Radford writes
The news media emphasizes the dangers of Internet predators, convicted sex offenders, pedophiles, and child abductions. Despite relatively few instances of child predation and little hard data on topics such as Internet predators, journalists invariably suggest that the problem is extensive, and fail to put their stories in context.
Whenever the news media, and especially the talking heads channels, pounds on the same issue over and over again, lawmakers assume there must be a national problem for which the only solution is a high profile law with a sound-byte worthy title.
When these stories get into heavy rotation, few, if any, journalists or politicians do any research to validate the numbers before passing them along, with additional hyperbole added, like a very bad game of telephone.
Nor do any of these “leaders” consider that education is a far better long term solution to protect kids on the web than erecting a wall. Learning, of course, takes time. And doesn’t add to a good campaign stump speech.
DOPA was the only logical result.