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Kids more likely to be bullied than pestered online

Web dangers mirror real-life dangers? Whodathunkit?

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Research paid for by US state attorneys general has found the dangers of life online for US kids are pretty much the same as those they face in real life - and that the solutions are better parenting and education rather than technological silver bullets.

The final report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, available here, found that the greatest danger faced by kids was bullying and harrassment. It spent almost a year looking at online child safety particularly regarding use of social networks like Bebo and Facebook.

The Task Force said sexual predation of minors by adults remains a concern, but: "Youth report sexual solicitation of minors by minors more frequently, but these incidents, too, are understudied, underreported to law enforcement and not part of most conversations about online safety." The report noted that most research on internet related child exploitation pre-dates the rise of social networks.

On the subject of problematic or illegal content the report said: "Unwanted exposure to pornography does occur online, but those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out, such as older male minors."

It found that social networks were not the most common place for dodgy content but were frequently used for bullying - because they reinforce and reflect existing social relationships.

It reviewed 40 types of technology aimed at reducing issues of child safety but found none entirely satisfactory.

The Task Force was cautious of the likelihood of a technology solution to these problems.

Technology can play a helpful role, but there is no one technological solution or specific combination of technological solutions to the problem of online safety for minors. Instead, a combination of technologies, in concert with parental oversight, education, social services, law enforcement, and sound policies by social network sites and service providers may assist in addressing specific problems that minors face online.

The group called for better funding for schools and libraries to provide online safety education, and research into exactly what risks children run online and on the use of new technologies by registered sex offenders. Finally it recommended that parents and caregivers educate themselves about the internet and how their kids are using it, and be engaged with their child's internet use. ®

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