In the last decade,the number of young people on the internet who are accessing information for school, playing games, and participating in online communities has exploded. At the same time,new fears have grown concerning young people’s vulnerability to another growing online community– pedophiles.
One popular networking site, MySpace, has been criticized as an arena where youth are particularly at risk for predation by pedophiles. A number of states are considering legal action againstthe site,claiming that it does not adequately protect teens. Knowing that young people are vulnerable to predation at malls, at their local pizza pit, or on their way home from school, should a website be legally responsible for protecting teens from this real world danger? Moreover, are they morally responsible? What kind of safe guards would prevent pedophiles (who typically pose as another teen) from gaining the confidence of a young person? Or shouldteens’ behavior be restricted? What role do parents have?
As a response, a new population of online users has sprung up–cyber-vigilantes. One blog, Perverted Justice, financed largely by the TV news program Dateline, has become one of the most effective unofficial law enforcement operations in country. The site’s volunteers pose as vulnerable teens with the goal of flushing out would-be pedophiles. When they have collected enough “evidence” against someone, they submit it to the police. In more notorious cases, potential sex offenders are lured to a meeting with the hypothetical teen and exposed by the Dateline camera crew.
With limited resources, law enforcement has been challenged to identify, track, and charge pedophiles. Is there anything problematic about engaged citizens actively playing a part in protecting youth from sexual predation and maintaining justice in this way?
Join us this week at Café Society to explore what can be done and who is responsible for protecting our youth online.
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For more informaiton, please contact Kristin Millikan at 312.422.5580.